School board members differ over when to make cuts

Slide 13 of Starr's budget presentation/Stamford Public Schools

During a four-hour meeting last night, members of the Board of Education debated whether to make additional cuts to the school budget now, or continue working with a budget that presented a 3.86 percent increase over last year.

In the end, the board asked Superintendent Joshua Starr to rework his budget request before the Feb. 28 meeting, chopping off an additional $1.9 million to bring it down to a 3 percent budget increase — or at least in that area. But board members still held differing opinions about whether forwarding a more conservative budget to Mayor Pavia, the Board of Representatives and Board of Finance will help reduce cuts from those entities, or whether it would “shoot (the board) in the foot” as board member Julia Wade said.

In Wade’s opinion, the BOR and BOF will likely cut some dollar amount from whatever figure the BOE offers up.

“The idea that they will preserve our budget is not a reality,” she said. “All you’re doing by reducing it now is biting your nose despite your face.”

But Fiscal Committee Chairman Jerry Pia said he would rather do the heavy lifting now to avoid surprises in the spring. He referred to a budget cycle in the 1980s when the BOE learned in May that they had to make several additional cuts, forcing them to make the decision to close a high school in June. He described it as a “mad dash” and a “scramble.”

Some members agreed with Pia, and Board President Polly Rauh even urged Starr to bring in a budget representing a 2 percent increase if possible. But others are holding on hope that a budget similar to the one Starr presented in January could make it through the BOR and BOF.

“I’m at like a 3.5, 3.6 minimum, because even then we’re losing ground,” said board member Steve Polo. “I’m gonna liken it to an engine, where you’ve got to change the oil. You’ve got a $10,000 engine, and if you don’t change the oil for 30 bucks, you lose it.”

If past budget seasons are any indication, the idea that the mayor, BOF and BOR would approve the school board’s budget request as-is is not very likely. It happened last year, but in a graph listing requests from the previous 14 fiscal years, there’s not a single other year when the subsequent boards didn’t trim something (including a meager $475 cut in 1999-2000). The last time the BOE left the superintendent’s budget untouched was in the 2002-2003 fiscal year, before Starr arrived. It was then cut $1.6 million by the other boards before final approval.

Previous fiscal years/Stamford Public Schools

Maggie Gordon