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Finance Board Reduces 2012-13 Budget $475K

2.41 percent spending increase sent to public hearing.

The Board of Finance (BOF) voted last week to reduce the 2012-2013 budget proposal by approximately $475,000 — $235,000 from the municipal budget and $240,000 from education. This proposal will go to a public hearing Tuesday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the (BHS) auditorium before the BOF finalizes the budget for the Annual Town Meeting, May 1.

The BOF passed the most recent proposal with a split vote, 3-3, with the tiebreaking “yae” coming from First Selectman Bill Davidson, an ex-officio member of the board who only votes in a tie.

According to Davidson, the proposed budget is “inadequate to meet some of the wants and needs of the town’s people,” but “not grossly inadequate,” he said.

“Some of the reductions on the town side we’ll find a way to deal with,” Davidson said, however — increasing clerical hours in the , more hours for Social Services and the and an additional part-time position at the — will likely be nixed, for a total of $35,000.

Davidson said he voted for the reduced proposal after “considering the conversation over Tuesday and Wednesday and the entire month of March, I got a feeling of where the board was at.” Had he voted no, the likely result would have been another motion “for lower numbers… and it would be supported,” in his assessment.

“It’s not horrific,” he said of the cuts, but, “It’s the difference between quality programs for residents and just getting through another year.”

On the education side, the reduction will likely mean a reduction in employees, according to Board of Education (BOE) Chairman Ray DiStephan, though the board will be officially discussing the cuts for the first time at their Wednesday night meeting.

“This is a major adjustment,” DiStephan said, as the $240,000 is nearly half a percent of the school budget, “And will probably mean a reduction in head count… we just have to talk about which heads.”

DiStephan said the BOE will likely not make a specific recommendation on how to adjust for the cuts until after the public hearing and the BOF’s proposal is finalized, though if it stands as-is, the earlier this year, as well as would be removed.

“That would just about barely get us there,” he said, stating that there are “not a lot of places to go” within the budget.

Phil Kurtz, a , said he viewed the current proposal as a “compromise budget,” wherein “not everybody got what they wanted, but it is a fair compromise.”

Kurtz said he and fellow new BOF member Robin Appleby were and while the proposed 2.41 percent increase is “maybe not 100 percent like we would like, it’s not 100 percent like what they would like, either.” However, he believes the cuts should not be crippling and the “schools can still go forward with, if not all the programs they wanted, most,” such as , even if an additional teacher cannot be hired.

Appleby, who said he voted against the proposal because it was too high, said he wanted to get the spending increase below 2 percent.

The 1.99 percent threshold is “sort of arbitrary,” Appleby admitted, “But probably further than the people want me to go,” he added, as he would have liked to keep spending as flat as possible year-over-year.

“The question is not if we can get to an arbitrary number, it’s about services,” said BOF member Ron Jaffe, who voted against the proposal along with Appleby and member Jen Tomaino, though Jaffe and Tomaino were in favor of the higher budget proposed by the Board of Selectmen (BOS). “We’re not a business — government is in the business of providing services.”

“Part of the equation has to be what do we think is a reasonable budget,” he agreed, however, “In this environment, where most people’s taxes would be reduced [], the budgets that were presented were good, tight budgets.”

All members of the BOF urged residents to attend the April 10 public hearing to voice their opinions before the proposal is finalized.

When it comes to the budget, “Historically, the Board of Finances have listened to what people say at the public hearings,” according to Davidson.

Andrea Saunders April 06, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Dr. Appleby, I am glad that they are grandparents like you who help take care of their family. I thought for sure the BOF didn't have any children or grandchildren going into kindergarten because they would have fought for what the kids need. I am sad and surprised that the budget is getting cut. I thought for sure there was no way that the BOF would even think about cutting the kindergarten teacher because it is apparent that we would need one. I was hoping they would add two kindergarten teachers since they are going to full day and a harder curriculum. I was a teacher an know how important class sizes and one on one time is to help your children. I apologize I was angry in my last post I was just totally shocked! Lets get behind the children and help them to suceed by giving them the teachers and para professionals (so they can have more one on one time with their teachers) that they need. Actions speak louder than words.
Howard Lasser April 06, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Robin, you keep talking about the high taxes in Brookfield. High is a relative term. Our Gas prices are too high, unless of course you are from just about any European country. Then you would see our gas prices are a bargain. The facts are that Brookfield has one of the lowest tax rates in Connecticut. While I acknowledge that we all have to struggle with increasing cost, ignoring the reality of the value we get for our tax dollars does no service to the community. Nor do the arbitrary cuts you proposed to the budget ignoring the needs of the children and the community. It is particularly vexing when you ran on a platform promising that you had hundreds of ideas on how the town can save money and have yet to offer a single idea.
Frank Acquanita April 06, 2012 at 05:07 PM
I struggle to understand why we are comparing this years Education Budget to last year, when the teachers have agreed to a general wage freeze (dollar savings not identified) and insurance adjustments (projected to save $625K/year per Brookfield Patch Oct 11). This amount represents 1.7% ($625K on $36M) the Education Budget. Where are these savings being identified in the Budget? So the true increase vs prior year is at least $625K higher than identiifed or 3.9%. That should be more than enough to add any required teachers for curriculum changes. Something is not adding up correctly. The questions should be related to how the money is being spent.
Rob Gianazza April 06, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Howard, I guess it's all in the way you look at things. You compare our gas prices to Europe and tell me we are getting a bargain. But in reality, we are paying way more for gasoline than we need to. We have the resources and the ability to lower our fuel costs but are prevented from doing so by an obstructive and over-regulated government. Europe does not have these resources, it is an unfair comparison. I look to Brookfield, not other towns for leadership. Brookfield needs to control its' spending and encourage business development. Creating debt for the future is considered irresponsible by many.
Howard Lasser April 06, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Rob, I would love to be the guy that sells you your motorcycle, obviously, based on your comments, you never comparison shop. The people I talk to, in particular young people, say they came to Brookfield for two reasons; our education system and the LOW TAXES. They are obviously comparing us to somewhere when they make their choice to live here. I agree we need to control spending. Not one BOF member identified any item in the budget that was wasteful or not needed. Instead they made, by their own admission, arbitrary cuts. You have a habit of bringing in issues that were not part of the discussion, but since you mentioned debt I will give you my point of view. Debt is a part of any balanced responsible financial plan. Used prudently it allows us to maintain our facilities while keeping taxes LOW. It is unfortunate that for many years the members of the BOF reduced the capital spending (funds used to maintain roads and buildings) in order to reduce taxes, leading to diminished value and safety of those facilities. That leaves us with more challenges and fewer ways to meet those challenges. I am always open to consider ways to meet our needs, but one thing I am sure of; cutting more capital on the hope of a windfall (something proposed by members of the current BOF) is not a responsible financial plan.
Andrea Saunders April 06, 2012 at 07:07 PM
The reason it is not adding up is because the government was giving aid to all the schools and this year the aid is gone. So in order to maintain and/or add any teachers we will have to increase the taxes. I went to one of the budget meetings and the original amount proposed was very reasonable and they would add a kindergarten teacher which I see as essential. There were a few other things they were going to add as well, but I can't remember all of them. I want to say they were going a teacher at low middle school grades and keep 5 para professionals that are no longer covered by the government aid.
Rob Gianazza April 06, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Howard, I have no idea how you come to your conclusions about my shopping habits. I am very proud of the fact that young people come to Brookfield for the excellent education system and low taxes. Your assumption that low taxes equates to justifying raising taxes is flawed. You cannot blame Bush for not maintaining our facilities, nor should you any prior administration. What was done is in the past. Your argument that bonding to reduce taxes is only reasonable in the short term. You are committing future administrations to pay for your current spending. That reduces their ability to maintain the town because a portion of their budgets will be required to pay for your spending. What is needed is a long-term plan, not an unsustainable quick fix.
Steven DeVaux April 07, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Brookfield's Board of Education chairman turned down THIS suggestion in favor raising taxes TWO YEARS IN A ROW! http://darien.patch.com/articles/darien-schools-may-save-245k-a-year-in-energy
Steven DeVaux April 07, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Robin, I am shocked that parents continue to faust debt on their kids to pay off. Kudos to you for saving the future of kids by avoiding debt!
Steven DeVaux April 07, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Andrea, The should eliminate all the para-professionals and hire PROfessionals. Kids deserve nothing less. And you're right about the grants. They were government jobs programs that expired that the Board of Education failed to account for so they just as soon have you pay. Remember the state is giving Brookfield $5 more per student this year. Check out that fact. If Brookfield's Board of finance was willing to DOUBLE the state's increase this year the increase would be less than $30,000. Those are facts.
Steven DeVaux April 07, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Even worse Frank. Over half the graduates this year according the US Dept of Education have to take out DEBT to finance their OWN education on top of paying off the BONDS their parents passed to pay for their high school education. That's just plain wrong. Our parents treated us a LOT better as kids in terms of not having kids saddled with EDUCATION DEBT for half their life. Parents need to step up and learn to pay for their kids education.
Rob Gianazza April 07, 2012 at 06:58 PM
The title Paraprofessional is just that, a title. These dedicated and trained employees of the District are professionals in every sense of the word. In many cases they work with our special needs students to assist them as part of their overall special education needs. To call them anything other than professional is a dis-service. If any community member has a question as to just what a paraprofessional is and what they do, i urge you to contact Mr. Charlie Manos at the Town School Office. His office will provide you with a valuable explanation of the service that they provide to our students.
Steven DeVaux April 08, 2012 at 12:17 PM
Rob, We respectfully disagree, Teachers are state certified and are required to get a master's degree in 10 years after their bachelors, have done student teaching, have a professional administrative mentor and many other requirements before and during their interaction with students. Such is not the case at all with non-education professionals such as para-professionals. Students with special needs need special understanding...that acquired by years of training and mentoring. I equate this to being treated by a professional doctor vs. a medical technician. The more serious that which is being treated, the moreso the need for the skills of a doctor or specialist. Kids with special needs deserve the high caliber in my mind. Teachers, like doctors, are the highest caliber of care and as such can develope, monitor and delivery the very best for those who need the very best.
Andrea Saunders April 09, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Steven do you really think the town would get "professionals". HAHAHA They won't even add teachers so we can get our class sizes down. I have worked with some of the paraprofessionals (one of my son's is in the special education program) and they do have to have special training and schooling to get that position. I am thankful for them and the wonderful job they do. And even though some might not have their masters they don't get paid what a teacher does either (which even a teacher's salary is ridiculously low). And Howard I would have to disagree slightly with you on your comment. I did move to Brookfield because of a few things: good schools (which I fear are going down hill because the BOF and towns people wont put in the necessary changes to the budget to keep it that way), convenient location to shopping and my husbands job, and it is a cute town with a lake. Taxes weren't any part of it. The top reason was the schools. I have many friends who live in neighboring towns that when they were choosing a location decided against Brookfield because of the fact that they thought the neighboring towns have better schools now, and because we don't have a town center (which I know we are working on, but it has taken forever to get passed since people are SO concerned with taxes. If we don't keep our town where it needs to be we wont have people moving in!) It seems like such a fight to get anything changed for the better in this town. Frustrating!
Steven DeVaux April 09, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Andrea, Compare the sylabus a state certified special education teacher takes to insure that a student with special needs is given the best opportunity to succeed in life as opposed to that taken by a paraprofessional. You would see the rigor and continuous training required thru CEU's by special education professionals. Special Education teachers are the best of the best. Salary should never be a consideration when addressing the unique needs of students. Training, continuous educational skill training in the latest methods afford students the opportunity to succeed which should be the sole drive of good decision making for our special olympians!
Andrea Saunders April 09, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Steven, I know the special Ed teachers are the best of the best, but you can't hire a full time special education teacher for each speical education child to assist in the class of another teacher. The para professionals help the student while they are integrated in the class room. I agree that salary shouldn't be a consideration I am all for it, but I know the town would never go for anything like that. Our town is too budget minded instead of what is best for the children. I always feel like I have to fight to the death to get anything for my son in the PPT's (meetings to address needs and what resourses to give my son to assist with his education). So since the Para-Professionals are better than no para-professionals (which they want to get rid of 5 of them) I hope the BOF realizes the mistakes of changing the education budget. They are making huge mistakes!
Steven DeVaux April 09, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Andrea, The administrators and the Board of Education shouldn't force you to have to settle for second best for anything when it comes to your child. They do have the money and they do control where and how it is spend. They should never make the needs of Special Education students a "second tier" priority when it come to their allocation of funds. Special Education needs are far more important that sports and they could re-allocate their funds at any of their meetings to channel them to curricular rather than extra curricular activities since that's where the core of education resides. Next they will be outsourcing to third world countries if you let them!
Andrea Saunders April 09, 2012 at 05:26 PM
The BOF is making everone settle for second best by getting rid of the Para-professionals and the kindergarten teacher that were needed. I don't think any students special ed or not should be put in larger class sizes with less help from aids in the class room so they can save a few dollars from everyone in the town. Unfortunately besides expressing our opinions on things like the patch I am not sure what else we can do. And I don't want them giving up the extra curricular activities either because it keeps kids out of crime and drugs and other things which I hope are in place when my boys are in highschool. I think people just need to make the necessary changes that need to be made to keep class sizes small and provide the things they need.
Howard Lasser April 09, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Audrea, with regard to "what else we can do". There is a public hearing on the budget tomorrow night at 7:30 at the High School. You can also email members of the BOF with your point of view. There is also a petition being circulated that encourages the BOF to allow the community to vote on the Budgets as presented by the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education. I hope to see you at the public hearing, but if not, please take advantage of some of these other venues to express your view point.
Andrea Saunders April 09, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Howard, Thanks for your comment. I have already signed the petition my friend forwarded to me. I will try to get to the public hearing, but do have a prior commitment. I will email the BOF members. Thanks. Andrea
Steven DeVaux April 09, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Life itself is all about choices. Learning to choose is what we do as should the Board of Education...after all, we don't order all the flavors every time we order an ice cream cone at Baskin-Robbins. The Board of Education needs to prioritize just as everyone else has to. Parents control extracurricular activities such as sports where as the Board of Educations primary mission is about making all kids successful.
Rob Gianazza April 10, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Mrs. Saunders, the Board of Finance has only proposed a reduction to the budget request of the Board of Education. The BOF has NO control over how the BOE allocates the funding that is approved by the Town. It is up to the BOE to determine how to deal with a reduction to their budget request.
Andrea Saunders April 10, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Yes, but there isn't much to cut from the board of Education. There were only a few things they were trying to add. I hope that there is some way they can allow the board of Education to have more money back on the budget. I felt the budget that they presented was a reasonable one, not to stringent and not to spendy. I am not sure what else they can cut. Deep down I was hoping that the Board of Fiance would say "You know those kindergarteners are going to need more help why don't you add two kindergarten teachers to reduce that class size." But that was just a dream.
Steven DeVaux April 10, 2012 at 02:47 AM
There is. The chairman has refused to entertains savings contractually guaranteed by Education Energy consultants that would save Brookfield at least the amount the BoF reduced the budget by...and they have hundreds of schools districts to show it works...and they give a MONEY BACK GUARANTEE. How's that for wasteful government spending by the Brookfield Board of Education? Oh yes and this isn't the first year it was suggested and recommended. Look at how much New Milford saved last year alone doing it.
Jennifer Pashkin Scott April 10, 2012 at 12:50 PM
The thing that really gets me is this quote from First Selectman Davidson... “It’s not horrific,” he said of the cuts, but, “It’s the difference between quality programs for residents and just getting through another year.” My family didn't move here to "just get through another year"! My family DID move here for the schools. My family DID move here for a significantly improved quality of life over other parts of Fairfield County. We enjoy the "quality programs", but we want more. We want to see this community moving forward, not stagnating. I want to see progress. I want to see our schools get EVEN BETTER. I want to see our town grow. If at all possible, please come to the Public Hearing tonight at BHS at 7:30, and speak up on behalf of our kids and the future of our community.
Longtime Brookfield resident April 10, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Rob - Just read this and you are 100% correct - we need you back on the BOE
Longtime Brookfield resident April 10, 2012 at 04:22 PM
THE BOE can cut down on frivolous LEGAL expenses - Thats a great place to start - What did it cost us to remove DOc Wolkind ? What other areas are we wasting Legal fees on in this current year . Seems to me that the school ADMIN / Superintendent make descisions that in turn cost us HUGE in legal fees - where can we see what the costs incurred by BOE on legal fees are
Steven DeVaux April 11, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Higher taxes = Lower home selling prices to first time homebuyers on a fixed budget. Raise taxes a dollar and lose four dollars on the selling price of single family homes and condominiums, it's that simple. The interestand taxes are non-negotiable for homebuyers so the only negotiation that happens is on principal so that the mortgage payment they are qualified for remains constant. It's not rocket science. That's one of the primary reasons Brookfield's home market is so much worse off than the surrounding towns that are moving 3-4 times the number of homes Brookfield is in terms of turnover.
Andrea Saunders April 11, 2012 at 09:46 AM
Which towns have lower taxes than we do???? Newtown, Bethel, Danbury, Ridgefield, Redding, and New Milford they all have higher taxes that Brookfield. (I got this from the State of Connecticut's website so I did my research.) So which neighboring towns are selling more houses then us because of their lower taxes?. I think it is the fact is that their towns have town centers and make improvements that people like and make them want to live there. I think if we get out town center done and well done and if we take care of our schools and keep them high in the ranking you will see Brookfield's homes in a better market. And the only way to get there is to fund those important aspects of our town. That is the only way.
Steven DeVaux April 11, 2012 at 10:12 AM
I checke the site and that's because it does not reflect the new Brookfield assessements and mill rate, the two keys (the mill rate has yet to be set). In absolute dollars, that being the amount you write your check out for to pay taxes on your car, boat, personal property and home. The bottom line for home buyers is their mortgage payment particularly with first time home buyers. If they can't afford the price of the home, the location of the home won't matter, especially in this economy - hence the reason all other towns are selling.

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