Comments and questions from Avon residents about the superintendent's proposed $50.366 million gross budget for 2013-14 centered around full day kindergarten at a school board public input session Monday.
“The board itself has not responded to the (budget) proposal yet," Avon Board of Education Vice Chairman William Stokesbury said.
Community members supporting full day kindergarten for Avon Public Schools, many wearing gold "FDK" (full day kindergarten) stickers this time, asked when there will be a decision on that component and what factors will be considered.
Another parent asked whether adding world languages to Pine Grove School, Roaring Brook School and Thompson Brook School will be isolated to Spanish. Avon Superintendent Gary Mala's proposal includes 60 minutes a week of Spanish instruction for 2013-14.
Avon parent Tracy Beloin spoke in favor of full day kindergarten, pointing out that there are different state-set education standards now. She said that the community could benefit from an informational forum on full day kindergarten.
When the school board acts on Mala's budget proposal, likely in December or January, the board will have the opportunity to decide whether to eliminate any of the proposed items. That could theoretically include full day kindergarten.
“If the board acts and decides the budget needs to be reduced, the board will direct me to reduce a certain dollar amount," Mala said.
Stokesbury, responding to Avon resident Susan Johnson's question about whether the decision on full day kindergarten would be based solely on financial reasons, said cost would not be the only factor considered.
Mala has estimated that full day kindergarten would cost $330,000, identifying non-tax revenue that could cover the cost without putting burden on the taxpayers. Possible funding sources include state Open Choice reimbursement ($200,000), eliminating mid-day buses ($112,000) and energy conservation ($18,000).
About 102 students will attend Avon schools through the Open Choice program in the next fiscal year, district officials have projected.
Avon parent Robyn Abbate asked whether the $200,000 reflects a portion or all of the total anticipated reimbursement amount for Open Choice. Mala said the $200,000 represents some of the total projected Open Choice reimbursement for the next fiscal year.
However, recognizing that school officials could possibly allocate that portion of the Open Choice reimbursement elsewhere in the budget, Abbate said that even if the district had to find money to put toward full day kindergarten, "I still think it's worth it."
“With a limited increase in our budget, any allocation of money to a new program may be very likely to impact other programs," Stokesbury said.
Avon parent Jill Ferguson said her daughter attends a preschool program and that “they’re really ready for a longer day." She suggested an extended day lasting until 1:30 p.m. or so as another alternative.
After the School Board Backs a Budget
The Board of Finance will look at a combined town and school board budget in the spring, set a proposed tax rate increase and decide on any necessary reductions from both sides of the budget.
If any adjustments need to be made to the school district operating budget proposal, the Board of Education would then task Mala with reducing the budget by a certain amount.
“The Board of Finance does not decide our curriculum," Stokesbury said.
Stokesbury said that the board does not typically talk about "bubble items," or items in danger of being cut if the budget is voted down, before the referendum.
“We think it’s counterproductive to focus on the negativity, the concerns about what might be cut until we see what it is.”
Avon community members will vote on the total dollar gross amount for the combined town and school budget in a May referendum.
What questions do you have about the proposed 2013-14 budget? What is most important to you in the school budget?
Editor's Note: This article originally stated, "While the current proposal doesn't ask for money for full day kindergarten, Avon parent Robyn Abbate said that some people could argue that Open Choice funds should be allocated elsewhere." To clarify, Abbate asked whether the $200,000 listed as an alternative funding source for full day kindergarten was all or a portion of the Open Choice money. Recognizing that school officials could possibly allocate that portion of the reimbursement elsewhere in the budget, she said that even if the district needed to find money to put toward full day kindergarten, "I still think it's worth it." The article has been updated to reflect this clarification.