More than 30 Fairfield community members gave the Board of Finance their thoughts, opinions, and comments on the proposed $342.7 million budget. Almost all of them spoke up in support of the school district’s budget, with a handful also advocating on behalf of the town’s senior citizen services.
In the preliminary budget approved by the Board of Selectmen, about $116 million was allocated to the town’s side of the budget, just under $200 million was allocated to the school district, and about $26.5 million was set aside for shared expenses. This is an increase of more than $7 million for the school district, but it's about $2 million less than what the Board of Education asked for.
Parents, teachers, and students said that now was not the time for there to be cuts to education, after the last two years of disrupted education due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly, a member of the Board of Education, and teacher in the Greenwich Public School system, said that she’s “never seen in a classroom what I’m seeing right now,” referring to both academic and social challenges her students are facing.
Maxon-Kennelly said that cut would be closer to $3 million.
“Can we cut $3 million and non impact students? No,” she told the Board of Finance.
The superintendent’s office put out a list of potential options for cuts totaling more than $4.7 million. The list includes:
- Cutting the elementary STEAM program
- Cutting the elementary world language program
- Eliminating kindergarten paraprofessionals
- Eliminating the paraprofessionals that work in the library
Many in attendance said that these cuts would be “devastating,” while others called them “embarrassing for the town” since the school district is a reason many families cite for moving into town.
Matthew Mckinnis, a student at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, said that the students are “coming out of one of the worst times for learning and education.”
“I can tell you people aren’t learning how they should be,” he said.
Teachers and staff members said that the cuts would have “the neediest students” suffer the most without the additional support of paraprofessionals.
Board of Finance members were split in their reactions to the comments. Some board members said that they heard the concerns of the community, but they had to balance the needs of “all Fairfielders” not just those with the loudest advocates.
“It’s not surprising that we have a lot of advocates for the youngest Fairfielders here and the oldest Fairfielders here,” board member Chris DeWitt said. “We have to deal with all the Fairfielders—there’s a big part of middle Fairfielders who don't have advocates.”
Board member James Walsh said that he was a bit surprised to not see any administration cuts on the proposed cut list from the school district.
“What I saw was (the list) hit the children the hardest, and that was very concerning,” he said.
Walsh gave an example of eliminating a central office position for communications that was paid about $120,000 would “save six para(professional) jobs.”
Other board members, like Kevin Starke, advocated for fully funding the Board of Education’s request. Starke said that the district spends about $19,000 per pupil, so to educate a student from K-12, a family with two students would have “$500,000 of educational benefit.”
“We need to invest in education in this town,” Board Member Sheila Marmian said. “I’m a strong proponent of education and I’m very supportive of the Board of Education budget that was originally put forth.”
This week, the Board of Finance will hold two budget meetings. The first will be Monday, at 7:30 p.m., where it will get any final questions answered and begin discussing the budget. The second meeting is where the board will vote on the budget, and that will take place on Thursday, March 31 at 7:30 p.m. From there, the budget heads to the Representative Town Meeting for final approval.