The Board of Education last week unanimously approved sending a letter to the Charter Revision Commission, seeking less influence over its budget by the Board of Selectmen.
The board asked the commission to remove the Board of Selectmen’s annual “non-binding recommendation” on the education budgets and also spelled out the board’s opposition to the selectmen’s request to have “authority to set a budget and tax increase level.”
“To give the Board of Selectmen any say on the Board of Education’s needs is a significant conflict of interest because both boards are competing for a limited pool of tax dollars,” said the letter, signed by school board Chairman Austin Drukker. “That limit is set by the voters at referendum.
“Giving the Board of Selectmen the power to set the mill rate and limits on education budgets allows that board to take what they need from the tax pool and limit the school budget without concern for educational priorities or needs, and in fact, seeks to fundamentally change the town’s form of government.
“We request the Board of Selectmen non-binding review of the Board of Education budget be removed as it has been shown to be competitive, prejudicial and detrimental to the town as a whole.
“We therefore also strongly oppose any proposal to further broaden the Board of Selectmen’s power by giving it authority to set the town mill rate and the Board of Education budget.”
The commission will discuss the letter at its meeting Monday, Feb. 3.
The educators agreed Monday night that a representative or two should attend that meeting, although it is not a public hearing.
In the letter, the board said that since the non-binding recommendation was added to the charter several years ago, the selectmen have “violated the spirit of the mandate by publicly questioning individual line items in the budget, as opposed to commenting on the total number.”
The letter also states towns like Ridgefield that use a “town meeting form of government” do not give their Board of Selectmen any comment on the education budget.
“In fact, government in Connecticut was specifically set up to prevent conflict between town boards that need to utilize the same dollars in order to fund their needs,” the letter said.
The letter said: “Residents have a greater voice in the decision-making process over local issue.
“On the other hand, the state’s delegation of broad powers to towns sometimes results in bitter rivalries between towns stemming from projects and programs that encompass multiple towns.”