Group protests decision to not increase New Milford school funding
NEW MILFORD — When the Town Council approved funding the schools at $62.8 million — rejecting the $1.4 million requested increase — several parents decided it was time to speak up.
“I was very disheartened,” said Megan Byrd, a parent of twin third- graders, who is leading the effort.
She started a Facebook group and online petition just days after the March 9 council vote to rally members of the community to attend the Board of Finance meetings and urge the board to add the initial increase back into the budget.
The finance board will decide what amount will be voted on during the townwide referendum. The school’s portion is scheduled to be discussed at a hearing at 7 p.m. on April 9 at the Sarah Noble Intermediate School cafeteria.
The council approved the reduced budget, with councilmen Peter Mullen and Walter Bayer opposing. Throughout the budget process, council members and residents have argued that those with fixed incomes couldn’t afford a large tax increase. The current version of the budget projects a 3.87 percent tax increase, the same as it was before the cuts, but it removes the proposal to use money from the reserve to offset funding cuts.
Some people have said the town has cut a lot to make up for the reduced state and local revenue and the schools should have to assume some of that, as well. The council approved a town budget that is $120,000 less than the current year’s budget.
But school officials said the schools already made significant cuts before the budget was presented to the council and the increase was due to contractual or required line items, like salaries, transportation and services for students with special needs.
“I see a lot of things that would be detrimental if they cut our funding,” Byrd said.
Byrd said if the town keeps the school budget amount the same as this year, programs and staff will have to be cut. She said New Milford has a history of rallying behind families in need and supporting the school budget as approved by the Board of Education is a great way to protect the community’s children.
It’s a message that seems to be resonating with other residents. As of last Friday, the Facebook group had more than 570 members and the online petition had more than 225 signatures.
“It seems like we have a strong grassroots movement started,” Byrd said, adding while the online support is great, a physical presence at the meetings will accomplish more.
The group plans to post fliers around town and speak with other residents about the budget. A school budget information session has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the high school’s library, where the superintendent will go over what’s included.
“We really want to make sure everyone in town is involved.” Byrd said.