Schools boss proposes $53.8M budget
Burgeoning enrollment is the driving force behind a $53,865,315 spending plan for 2004-2005 Pitkoff unveiled Thursday. "We had more students this year than we budgeted for last year. We're at the point in many of the classes where the extra number of students are making it so that we must have the additional teachers," Pitkoff told the Newtown Board of Education Thursday. The superintendent's plan is an increase of roughly $4.1 million - or 8.37 percent - over the current budget. Pitkoff called his budget the lowest increase presented by a superintendent in Newtown in at least six years. School board members said they have to work hard to tell the public about the budget to avoid a replay of last year, when voters rejected the budget. That led to a series of program cuts, some of which - such as the fourth-grade orchestra program - have not been restored. Three people outside the Newtown post office in Sandy Hook Friday said they wouldn't support the budget. Two wouldn't give their names, but Mary Sampley, a retired school teacher, said the district spends too much money to educate its students. "It's all about high tech. You need more than that to operate in today's society," she said. "We'll never get out of debt after building that new school," she said, referring to the Reed Intermediate School. Linda Ragusa has a daughter in the high school. She said voters rejected past Newtown school budgets because they are voted on with the town budget. The school budgets get mired in town politics, she said. "The schools need the money to continue our level of education," she said. "The town needs to split those two things up." The new budget is driven by a growing student population. Pitkoff said classes in the district already have more students in them then similar towns and the state is predicting more students are on the way. Newtown averages 20 students per class in its kindergarten classes, while the rest of the state averages 18. The high school averages about 22 students per class while the state averages about 20. The proposed budget calls for the hiring of nine new teachers. Pitkoff said without the additional teachers, class sizes would border maximum class-size ranges set by the board of education. Parents with children in the district who spoke after the budget was unveiled said they would support it. Martha Decker has two children in the first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She complained that her children's class is too crowded. "It's a very lean budget. The class sizes are already too big," she said. Sarah Beier has children in the second and fourth grade. She said programs cut during last year's budget cycle haven't reappeared. She said if the district doesn't hire more teachers, class sizes will continue to swell. Salaries and employee benefits comprise about 72 percent of the $4.1 million budget-to-budget increase. Employee benefits, which include health insurance, are increasing by about $1 million. The proposed budget eliminates fees to join after-school clubs. It also reduces the fees in the district's "pay to play" program for student athletes by $50. The Newtown Board of Education will be looking at the new budget in detail during its meetings scheduled Feb. 3, Feb. 5 and Feb. 10. The school budget must be delivered to the Newtown finance director by Feb. 13. The town's board of finance will hold a public hearing on the budget March 3. Contact Eugene Driscoll at email@example.com or at (203) 426-3711.