The New Milford Board of Education approved a proposed $61.6 million schools budget Wednesday, Jan. 29 for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

That figure would represent a $1.97 million or 3.2 percent increase over the present year.

However, it sliced Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote's budget request by $173,837.

Notably, the Board of Education voted, 6-3, to include pay to play for New Milford High School athletes, overriding Paddyfote's wish to eliminate the controversial revenue source.

The board approved the budget, 5-3, after they discussions.

Board member Bob Copolla abstained from the overall budget vote.

He said he had run for election on a campaign promise to not support any budget with pay to play sports.

Pay to play was restored -- offering a projected $79,457 in revenue -- by a 6 to 3 vote.

Board members voting against pay to play were David Lawson, a teacher, and retired teachers David Shaffer and Bob Coppola.

New board members David Littlefield, the board vice chairman, and John Spatola attempted to push through larger cuts but were outvoted.

Spatola cited the increasing reliance on property taxes to meet budget at a time the town's grand list is relatively stagnant.

He noted what he termed the "aging population" in town and the number of single-parent homes -- all struggling to meet tax burdens, in his assessment.

However, his motion to cut $602,276 from Paddyfote's proposal was defeated, 7-2, with only Spatola and Theresa Volinski voting for the reduction.

Several board members felt Spatola's proposal would result in cutting too many teaching positions.

Littlefield proposed cutting one assistant principal and one guidance counselor for a cumulative $163,878 savings.

That motion failed based on concerns about meeting state mandates regarding teacher evaluations.

In the end, the board opted to eliminate the replacement of a lawn mower; repairs to the cupola at the central office building on East Street and sanding the arena floor; as well as a $24,000 reduction in producing the course guide.

Pay to play sports was added to the board's proposed budget. Most student-athletes would pay a one-time, per year $125 fee for sports participation.

Those playing ice hockey would pay$750 and those playing golf would pay $165.

Mayor Pat Murphy is slated Feb. 18 to present her townside budget proposal to the Town Council