DARIEN — “Save the tuba!”

This quiet cheer was heard throughout the audience at the Feb. 13 Board of Education meeting as the board voted to include $7,530 for a new tuba as they approved the $98,122,266 budget for next school year.

The decision to keep in the cost of a tuba was part of an overall trend for the budget. While the board approved over $380,000 in cuts from the superintendent’s original $98.5 million proposal, they made the decision to keep the funds for many extracurriculars, including a new Darien High School tuba, pottery wheels for the high school, clubs and councils at the elementary levels and, most importantly to many concerned parents, high school varsity and junior varsity sports.

The controversial sports cut, proposed by newcomer to the board Dennis Maroney, was voted down six to one with board members and parents commenting on the troubling quality of the proposal.

“I find it sensationalistic,” said board chair Tara Ochman. “I feel like we owe it to the public to have a far better understanding if we’re looking for savings than to throw it out and rile up children, rile up parents who’ve shown this board and the public schools an amazing amount of support...I would challenge our member to be careful of words and cuts to be used because you bring out people’s fears….that’s not what we do.”

Maroney said the proposal was meant to start a conversation about the cost of individual sports, not to diminish the value of them, and was only meant to cut down the percentage increase of the budget.

“I understand a Board of Education members’ number one rule is the education of the students,” Maroney said. “I also believe we need to balance financial responsibility while making these decisions. It’s important to understand this proposal was not done in a vacuum. I understand the importance, value and unique experience sports offer.”

The overall budget increase came in at 2.34 percent over the current year’s $95.8 million budget.

In the arena of athletics, the board also decided to maintain $45,000 to hire an assistant athletic director. However, they made the decision to budget less for legal consultation in hopes there would be less of a need for it. The town spent over $100,000 last year for legal consultation related to Freedom of Information requests.

The school board also approved a $2.95 million capital budget.

The unanimously adopted school budget next goes before the Board of Finance at its March 6 meeting.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata