In their first meeting since being presented with Superintendent Susan Viccaro's $36.23 million budget proposal for the 2012-2013 school year, members of the District 13 Board of Education on Wednesday night appeared to agree that cuts to the budget were necessary.
But in what areas and to what extent was a matter of opinion.
Under the proposal, school spending would increase by 4.15 percent next year, or $1.44 million.
"I'll be blunt, like usual. I think it's too high," said Jeremy Renninghoff. "I understand that we have schools to run and we have contractual obligations to meet but last time I checked people aren't doing too well."
Earlier in the meeting, Renninghoff had presented the board with a document he said highlighted 46 "budget reductions" that would save the district $144,413. The savings, he explained, would come from reducing the budgets of departments that have a history of "not spending their entire appropriation."
District 13 Business Manager Pamela Mangini said Renninghoff's proposal was "worthwhile" but cautioned the board from making sweeping cuts because she said some departments may come in under budget in some areas but overspend in others. "Sometimes there's more to it than meets the eye," she said.
Other board members supported reducing the budget, but raised concerns about the impact the cuts could have on adding full-day kindergarten in the district.
"I would agree it's high. I don't know if it would pass at that level," said Elizabeth Gara. "I'd like to look for ways to keep the all-day kindergarten but reduce the overall increase the budget."
Board member Nancy Boyle agreed. "We have to cut to keep all-day K," she said.
Dr. Joe Ochterski asked the administration to take a closer look at spending on Student Support Services, which he said cost the district about $2 million more each year than other school districts of similar size.
"That's a big nut and I'd like to understand what that nut is made of," Ochterski said.
While she supports full-day kindergarten, Kerrie Flanagan worries that not enough attention is being given to the students already enrolled.
"When you look at our cost per student, our cost per student continues to rise. We're now in the high third of our DRG (District Reference Groups) in terms of cost per student. Three years ago we were in the middle," said Flanagan who asked the administration to look at ways to redirect money to areas that improve student achievement.
Board members made several other cost-cutting suggestions, including reducing a seventh grade teacher at Strong School where enrollment will be down significantly this fall. Other ideas include reducing athletic budgets and increasing class sizes in an effort to reduce staff.
Board chairman Thomas Hennick ended the budget discussion by asking Viccaro to look at ways to reduce the budget with and without full-day kindergarten added in the fall.
The board will hold a public hearing on April 11, at Coginchaug High School to present their 2012-2013 budget to residents.
A district meeting and town referendum are scheduled for early May.