At first it wasn’t tense. Twenty or so Ledyard residents waited around in the hall just outside the Ledyard High School media center on April 28, mingling with one another and making small talk. Eventually Board of Education member Anthony Favry opened the media center door and the residents filed in. The Board was arranged in their typical U-shaped formation and residents chose a hard wooden chair on one side or the other. Idle chit-chat continued until the roll call. Then it became tense. The roll call was followed by a solemn pledge of allegiance and then the meeting finally took on what Superintendent Cathy Patterson would later call a “somber tone.” Board of Ed Chair Mimi Peck-Llewellyn’s methodical speech emphasized the great weight each word carried. The Board of Ed began to discuss the budget.
In order to comply with state mandates requiring Special Education funding, and to make the necessary increases to general education costs, the Board of Education requested roughly a 4 percent increase in their budget from the Town Council, roughly $300,000 of which was necessary to meet the Special Ed needs. The Town Council decided the Board of Ed could only have a 1 percent increase, which means because of the Special Ed requirements, cuts to existing programs were necessary.
Patterson and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Byars presented the list of proposed cuts that they’d been working on for weeks. Among their proposed reductions were LHS advertising, all late buses, replacement textbooks, several middle school intramural sports and three school days — yes this means next year there will be 180 days of school, not 183. However, also on the list were 13 personnel reductions. A special Board of Education meeting was held on May 2 to vote on the new proposed budget and allow for public comment.
This special meeting enjoyed greater attendance than most meetings, including band students from the high school who were advocating for the elementary school instrumental music program, which is on the cut list along with the reduction of an elementary school instrumental music teacher.
Senior Ben Gardner began. “If you cut the roots of a tree, it will whither and die,” Gardner said. Gardner was joined in comments by several other students including junior Sean Healy, sophomore Charles Crain and freshman Ben Vajdos. These students spoke on the trip to Canada they took the previous weekend in which wind orchestra and jazz band competed in a music festival and received the highest possible rating. They claimed that this wouldn’t have been possible without the strong start they received in elementary school. Diaz also delivered an emotional speech on how band was a second family to her that she’d been a part of since elementary school.
Although the elementary band teacher received a large portion of the attention at the meeting, other cuts will no doubt have negative results as well. Looking at the removal of late buses and elementary remedial reading specialists, Patterson said, “It’s so difficult creating such a huge inequality for so many students.” Late buses give students whose parents work a chance to stay after for help or participate in extracurriculars and even sports.
Without transportation these activities will be more limited to those who have a ride, and more often this will be kids who have a parent who doesn’t work or may come from a higher-income family, thus a “stratification of kids who have access” is created, according to Patterson. For remedial reading teachers the same problem exists. “Our job is provide the experience they may not have had at home,” Patterson said. Often, she explained, this means helping students from lower-income families who don’t have the same background in reading as students from higher-income families. Without these remedial reading teachers, Patterson said students from lower-income families will be at a disadvantage, creating, “an inequality I’m not comfortable with.”
However, although all reductions will influence the student body, many of the reductions are less centered on direct student programs. In 2014, the loss of the print ediction of The Colonel, as well as golf and boys’ swim, made many residents upset. This year, the impact reductions will have on students isn’t so easy to see. Town Councilor Lou Gabordi said he felt the budget this year was a, “much more realistic board budget,” than spending plans he has seen in the past.
Ultimately, as Patterson said, “there are only terrible reductions.” The board voted 5-2 to approve the budget, which will go to a townwide referendum on May 17. A distinction Patterson made at the meeting is that in the past many students have mistakenly believed voting no to this budget will reinstate previously cut programs. Historically, voting no to the budget means the Town Council assumes it is too high for taxpayers and more reductions are made.
In a particularly solemn moment of the May 2 meeting Peck-Llewllyn, school board chairwoman, stated, “it is exceedingly difficult to see we are cutting the roots of the tree.”
Alex Houdeshell, Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Horizons
Junior Alex Houdeshell is the Assistant Editor-in-Chief of the 2015-2016 Horizons Yearbook. She is the president of Operation Smile and participates in Cupcakes for Causes. She is on the soccer team and she runs Indoor Track and Track and Field.