Finance chairman defends board at budget hearing

The Board of Finance is not responsible for previously made cuts from schools’ operating budget, even though some parents may have thought otherwise at a recent public hearing.

Board of Finance Chairman Liz Mao expressed her frustration in response to repeated requests from parents for the board to fully fund previously neglected proposals, at a public hearing on Tuesday night, March 12.

“The Board of Finance has never had chairs and desks and cafeteria tables come before it,” she said. “If this is really a part of the operating budget, the people that cut this was the Board of Education, not the Board of Finance.”

Some speakers, including Bob Kernen, a parent and RTM District Three representative, said that more investment into the schools is necessary after years of putting off certain purchases. The town has “successfully juggled priorities” so far, Kernen said, but pointed to the elementary schools where some furniture is decades old. There are desks and chairs “literally falling apart,” and lumps in the carpets, such as the ones at Ox Ridge library, that cause children to trip.

“To a large extent, the schools are our town,” he said, based on the growing demographics.

Speakers on behalf of the schools parent organizations echoed the same points: fund generators, new furniture and security measures.

The security measures were previously approved by the board as special appropriations and will go to the RTM.

Robin Nelson, Council of Darien School Parents budget representative for Tokeneke, said the measures are “critical to the education our schools provide and the safety our students, teachers, administration and staff.”

She also highlighted the differences between parent volunteers and security monitors for the board in response to Board of Finance’s expressed “hesitation” regarding security monitors at last week’s meeting.

Volunteers should not be responsible for assessing security risks, and monitors should not be returning items left by parents, she said.

Generators are vital, she also said, especially at Hindley and Ox Ridge schools because they power pumps that keep raw sewage and flood water out of the schools.

Nelson presented slides of paint chips peeling, water-stained carped, and large gaps in asphalt filled with rain water. On the stage were two chairs with splits down the middle of the base.

Another speech from Amy Howe, a high school parent representative, supported expenses for locker room renovations and the removal of poison ivy as “basic maintenance needs.”

Mao again expressed her frustration.

“I get a little upset when we hear [that] we haven’t been funding things at the school,” she said. Last year the board funded many capital requests, including the middle school roof, $90,000 for a lawn mower, and “fully funded” requests from Hindley school, she said.

“There shouldn’t be water-logged carpets,” Mao said.

“That is not the Board of Finance cutting back on these things, that is your Board of Education.”

Mao suggested that both boards meet to discuss smaller capital items such as classroom furniture that she said could be removed from the operating budget. These items can be funded from reserves as opposed to adding to taxes, she said.

The finance board can alter monetary amounts in the budget, Superintendent Dr. Stephen Falcone told the Darien Times. “They can give more money than we asked for,” he said, “or less money than we asked for. They can’t tell us how to spend it.”

The board is allowed to veto specific line items from the capital budget. For 2013-14, this includes the generators, oil tanks, physical repairs, furniture replacement. The RTM will see the budget next and can vote it up or down, Falcone said.

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