Sherman budget OKed despite parent complaints
SHERMAN — A town budget hearing turned contentious Tuesday when a small group of Sherman School parents asked the Board of Selectmen to delay the town budget referendum, arguing that the School Board is overhauling education practices without parental input.
“We are concerned how the current proposed Board Of Education budget will impact the quality of education and the character of our town,” said Justin Molito, parent of a third-grader.
Although only two others were present to echo Molito’s comments, he said dozens more are outraged over what they see as bloated administrative costs and a lack of transparency on the school board’s part about staff cuts and other issues.
The Board of Selectmen, after hearing the complaints, voted to approve both the school and town budgets and forward them to a town meeting and referendum. In Sherman, selectmen also act as the town Board of Finance.
The proposed budget, $14.7 million for 2017-18, calls for a 0.9 percent increase over last year’s budget. The school budget stayed the same as last year’s, while the town’s grew by 2.4 percent.
In declining to delay the vote, First Selectman Clay Cope said parents had several earlier opportunities to speak on the school budget but failed to do so.
“There is no rush here,” Cope said. “This is how we do the budget. I have no intention of delaying this process.”
Upset parents say the new superintendent-principal, Jeff Melendez, and the school board decided to make the school a “next-generation” learning institution without asking parents what they thought.
School Board Chair Rowland Hanley said that with declining enrollment and Melendez’s fresh look at the school, the board decided that it was time to revamp how Sherman runs. The parent outrage has been overplayed, he added.
There are staff cuts, Hanley said, but they are not severe and most involve retirements and elimination of part-time positions. The board is bringing on two new administrators, he added, but the positions were created by combining five part-time jobs.
He added that parental concern about the changes is to be expected.
“They have concerns, as parents as any parents would have,” Hanley said. “Their frustration with it has bled into crying foul over the process.”
Still, some parents remain upset.
“Despite my husband having attended every Board of Education meeting for the past three years, none of these issues were discussed,” said parent Jen Freed.
“There hasn’t been a robust process with robust participation,” Molito said. “This was fundamentally undemocratic and small New England towns like Sherman rely on direct democracy.”
A town meeting on the two budgets will be April 28. A vote is set for May 6.
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