Litchfield News

Proposed Litchfield school budget faces opposition (03-22-12)

Litchfield's Board of Education received an earful of criticism on Wednesday over the budget it is proposing for 2012-13.

Parents and teachers packed the high school library during the board's meeting to express concern about two teaching positions that have been left out of the proposed budget of $16,720,401. The proposal is $172,401, or 1.04 percent, higher than the current budget of $16,548,000.

The board drew fire for eliminating one of three language arts and supplemental skills positions at Center School and a world language teaching position at the intermediate school.

More than a dozen Center School teachers turned out to speak against the cut of the language arts and supplemental skills job, which delivers reading and writing instruction to struggling students. The school's staff signed a letter that was read by third-grade teacher Cathy Neller, who concluded her remarks by asking the board to reinstate the position.

Teachers who spoke said the job is essential for students who need help with their literacy skills. Without it, they said, students will be passed on to the intermediate school with poor skills, creating a snowball effect that will reach the high school.

Parents, too, spoke passionately about the loss of the job.

"I have two children with hearing problems and without the supplemental skills help they had, I don't think they'd be able to read," Tom Battiste said.

Jodie Tenney is not only a parent, she's also an educational consultant familiar with the needs of students with reading and writing problems.

"In my job, I go around to schools bragging about the services we have in Litchfield," Tenney said. "I don't see how we can do without them. It's really doing a great disservice."

Jeff Legendre, a parent who overcame literacy problems when he attended Litchfield schools, criticized the board for budgeting $263,000 for technology initiatives while cutting the language arts and supplemental skills job.

"You could spend billions on technology, but it's no good if you can't read or write," he said.

The school board is expected to get another earful on Monday when it holds a public hearing on the proposed budget at 7 p.m. at the high school. The board had to schedule the hearing after receiving a petition with 50 signatures of residents asking for a hearing.

Some board members expressed their thoughts after hearing from the public last night.

"I'm very struck by the intensity of the comments," Gary Waugh said.

John Bongiorno said he found the comments "enlightening," while James Katzin said the board should reinstate the language arts and supplemental skills position and the world language job and eliminate the $83,000 budgeted for a technology director.

The proposed budget was adopted earlier in the month by a 5-4 partisan vote, with Republicans winning the day. For the proposal to be altered, one of the Republicans would have to break ranks. School board Chairman Frank Simone said the board will address the proposed budget after Monday's hearing.