All-day kindergarten backed by Board of Ed New Milford schools budget proposal calls for 2.2 percent increase

Budget proposal calls for 2.2 percent increase

All-day kindergarten and summer school for elementary-aged children who need remedial help.

Fourth-grade instrumental music and seventh-grade general music.

A high school business teacher.

An elementary health teacher.

Technology upgrades that would include electronic white boards and district-wide wireless access.

Two literacy coaches and one math coach for the elementary through middle school grades.

These are but some of what the New Milford Board of Education approved Jan. 27 when it voted, 7-1, in favor of a $58.2 million budget proposal for 2011-12 -- a 2.2 percent increase over current spending.

The proposal would also include $873,000 worth of building repairs and maintenance.

The proposed budget is forwarded to Mayor Patricia Murphy for a recommendation to the Town Council during the week of Feb. 14.

The Town Council then submits its proposed budget to the Board of Finance, which will make a final recommendation to taxpayers for a budget referendum vote in May.

The Spectrum will take an in-depth look at New Milford budget prospects for 2011-12, including a look back at the last several years' budgets, in next week's edition.

With only 10 people in the audience Jan. 27 at Sarah Noble Intermediate School's library-media center -- that included three school principals, the teachers' union leader, town-wide PTO leaders and a couple of town leaders -- Board of Education members discussed whether this would be the year to make educational progress.

They commended teachers, staff and administrators for compromises including freezing salaries and accepting higher insurance payments, in the process allowing the district to realize almost $1 million savings in medical benefit costs.

They also cited the district's energy savings programs.

Two years of no budget increases have taken their toll, members said, and this community's children deserve more. Most were more than eager to allocate the bulk of a $700,000 federal jobs grant to finance an inaugural, all-day, kindergarten program for all three elementary schools.

Two years ago, John Pettibone School offered a pilot, full-day class deemed successful, but a shortage of funds prohibited administrators from bringing it forward as a district-wide program.

Board member Alexandra Thomas urged her colleagues to consider adding staff to the district's technology department and at least four, year-round interns to the classroom staffing.

She did not win that argument but several board members said they would like to consider how to incorporate teaching interns if there were a means to finance them through other funds, or if money could be saved through the substitute accounts.

The bulk of the debate, however, focused on an all-day kindergarten program.

No one disputed the merits of such a program, but Mayor Patricia Murphy and two board members, Lynette Rigdon and William Wellman (who cast the lone dissenting vote against budget proposal adoption), questioned whether adding such a program would make sense when federal dollars to be used to hire nine new teachers -- doubling existing kindergarten staff -- would not last beyond this budget cycle.

Mr. Wellman called it "irresponsible'' to offer such a program with no guarantee of a lasting revenue stream. Ms. Rigdon suggested a compromise measure that would allocate the federal dollars to other positions and offer partial full-day kindergarten.

Only she and Mr. Wellman endorsed that idea.

Superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote offered a two-year financing plan at $6000,000 for the all-day kindergarten program.

She indicated other savings, including another early retirement proposal in 2012-13, would make it affordable.

Board member Thomas McSherry said the district has the federal money now to implement all-day kindergarten and he believes the value to future generations is worth far more than the cost.

He said he believes the proposed budget increase this year would be more than reasonable for what students would gain from the new efforts.

"It's time we consider what we're here for in the first place,'' board member David Lawson said.