Students in Ledyard hear a lot about the school’s money. They hear jokes in the hallway about running out of toilet paper or they wonder why late buses no longer run. Some years the budget comes into the light a little more, like in 2014 when golf, boys’ swim and the print edition of The Colonel were all cut. Other years the budget is passed and students barely glance at the Board of Education. This is not one of those years.
According to Ledyard Town Councilor and Finance Committee Chairman Fred Allyn III, the whole state of Connecticut is in a bad place this year. The state, and by extension Ledyard, has been in a “downward spiral” since the recession in 2007. By looking at house sales and even the total tonnage of garbage collected in Ledyard each year, the Town Council can deduce that people in Ledyard have less money, he said. Having less money isn’t only a problem for individual families who may be struggling, but also the town, which relies on income taxes as a source of revenue, says Allyn.
But what does this have to do with students? The Board of Education’s budget is determined by the Town Council. The Town Council doesn’t look at each item the Board of Ed is paying for, rather they look at the people of Ledyard and try to figure out how much Ledyard citizens can afford to pay in taxes. An increase in the Board of Ed’s budget means residents have to pay more taxes; sometimes they can handle this and sometimes they can’t.
The process for creating the town budget starts when the mayor makes a budget plan. Then the Town Council makes a budget plan for the general government, which includes items such as Public Works and the police department. Simultaneously, the Board of Education creates their proposed budget, completely independent of the Town Council. The process of creating this education budget plan is a process that begins in the fall when school administrators make a building budget. For the high school this may include requests from different departments, according to Principal Amanda Fagan, such as textbooks for English classes, replacement equipment for tech ed, and instrument tuning services for music. The building budget then passes up to the superintendent, who compiles all the building budgets together and ultimately brings them to the Board of Ed. The process requires constant communication between the Board and its Finance Committee, Superintendent Cathy Patterson and administrators such as Fagan. The Board of Ed then presents its proposed budget to the Town Council. The Town Council takes into account what they think taxpayers can afford and gives the Board of Education either an okay on their proposed budget or tells them they can’t afford to give the school board all the money they’re asking for.
An important distinction Allyn emphasized is that the Town Council doesn’t make cuts to the school budget, rather they refuse to increase the school budget. Depending on what the Town Council tells the Board of Ed regarding their proposed budget, the board may need to revise their budget and be creative in where they spend money and what programs they can afford to reduce or eliminate. A town meeting to review the budget is scheduled for May 16 and a townwide vote on May 17. The town will vote either yes or no to the proposed budget, but they cannot vote on specific line items. If the budget is rejected by the public, then the Town Council assumes the budget is too large and the townspeople don’t want to pay so much in taxes, so they go back to the drawing board and try to reduce the budget further.
Throughout this political process citizens have a chance to be involved by attending and speaking at Town Council and Board of Ed meetings. Between the two, it is the Board of Ed’s decision regarding what to fund that directly impact students the most.
Several students attended the April 11 public hearing to advocate for programs within the school they wanted the councilors and education members to keep in mind when considering cuts. Seniors Simon Bohn, Luke Saccone and Catherine Rousseau; junior Sam Lahti and sophomores Jacob Money, Shelby Olsen and Peter Geoly spoke about programs such as sports, music, languages, academics and social services.
“I think students should pay more attention,” Geoly said. “It directly affects them in school.”
“I feel [students] should try to be better informed,” Money agreed, “in order to know why things happen in their school.”
Although not directly involved with the Board of Ed, Allyn said, “I think they need to work harder to preserve the things that are important.” While cuts may be made, student interest and student action at Board of Ed meetings may help dictate what is deemed important.