Don\u2019t cut elementary art teachers.That was the resounding message from parents, teachers, and at least one Ridgefield High School senior during the Board of Education\u2019s budget hearing Saturday, Feb. 9, at Scotts Ridge Middle School.\u201cThe proposed budget looks to cut this rich learning environment,\u201d said Jennifer Zeyer, an art teacher at Scotland Elementary.She claimed the cuts, which would reduce art teacher positions at the district\u2019s six elementary schools by about 20%, would mean teachers would be unable to do the two annual student art shows at the Aldrich Museum and Parks and Rec Center.\u00a0\u201cI believe we need to add more art time to the elementary schools in our district,\u201d rather than cutting teachers, Zeyer said.Anna Lourenso, a senior at RHS, said the district\u2019s art program helped her process the death of her father \u2014 a subject she wrote about in her college essay to Pratt, which she will attend in the fall.\u00a0\u201cI understand that we need to differentiate between nice to haves and need to haves, but I firmly believe that art is a need to have,\u201d said Mimosa Circle resident Tamal Mathial, paraphrasing a statement by Interim Superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote.Other parents said they were opposed to cuts to school office staff. The proposed budget would reduce elementary office paraeducators by the equivalent of one full-time position, and would eliminate assistant principal and secretary positions at East Ridge Middle School.\u201cOffice paras ensure children are safe every day,\u201d said Carolie Olkoski of Arrowhead Place.Tax increaseWhile several parents asked the board to find an additional $100,000 in the budget to avoid cuts to art, two townspeople said they want a lower school budget increase.\u201cI don\u2019t want to be driven out of Ridgefield because of high taxes,\u201d said Rich Fasanelli, of Gay Road. He noted that neighboring Wilton had proposed a budget increase of 1.3%, compared to the 3.43% increase Ridgefield is asking for.\u201cIn Ridgefield\u2019s case, if this rate continues over the years, the school budget will double in 21 years. Wilton\u2019s doubling scenario is much more reasonable at 53 years,\u201d said Fasanelli, reading from a letter he sent to the editor of The Press.\u201cI will still be alive in Ridgefield in 21 years, God willing,\u201d he added, suggesting that the schools should plan 10-year budgets, so that taxpayers know what to expect year-to-year.\u201cI\u2019ve been here 48 years \u2026 the budget has never been cut,\u201d said Linda Lavelle, of Aspen Mill Road. She said she protested budget cuts to German in 2016, when raises were also being given to school administrators.\u00a0\u201cI was outraged that raises were given on the backs of students, and now I see the same thing happening,\u201d she said.\u00a0She said the schools should look at the cost of transportation, infrastructure, and health-savings accounts to lower the budget.\u201cYou\u2019re all educated people \u2026 try to find a way to get the budget down maybe to a 0%, but not on the backs of children,\u201d Lavelle said.Previous meetingPlans to reduce the positions of elementary art teachers in the fall of 2019 sparked protest from parents and the head of the public school teachers union at the Monday, Jan. 28, school board meeting.\u201cWe urge the Board of Education to reject this cut out of hand,\u201d said Jeane Deming, president of National Education Association-Ridgefield, the union that represents the town\u2019s certified teachers. \u201cArt is not a nice to have, but a need to have.\u201dHer words paraphrase a statement by Interim Superintendent Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote, who said the district should make cuts in areas that are \u201cnice to have,\u201d during her first presentation on the proposed $98.3 million budget for the 2019-20 school year.The proposed cuts would reduce the art teacher position at each of the district\u2019s six elementary schools by about 20%, reducing the department by the equivalent of a little more than one full-time teacher.The move would save about $109,000, Paddyfote said in her presentation.The cuts do not reduce the teachers benefits, she told The Press.\u201cI\u2019m not a financial expert,\u201d said Olcott Way resident Martin Smith, but \u201ca 20% pay reduction to me seems comical.\u201dHe said the schools need to pay the teachers enough to live and work in town. \u201cI could not take a 20% pay cut and continue to live in Ridgefield,\u201d Smith said.Similar cuts were proposed last year during the 2018 school budget season by then-superintendent Dr. Karen Baldwin. Then, as with today, the move inspired opposition from parents.\u201cLast year, when this issue was brought to the board, the community was clear in their opposition to the cuts,\u201d said Stebbins Close resident Kerry Knop. \u201cWith the increased rates of school-related anxiety among students, art class is a creative outlet for our children,\u201d she said.Cutting back on art will only compound the problem of student stress, Knopp said.\u201cOur youngest children are rushed around to class parties, hurried through field trips \u2014 and our smallest treasures are stressed,\u201d she added.Smith pointed out that when his elementary-aged son developed an issue with his handwriting, his art teacher noticed it first.\u201cIt was the art teacher, it wasn\u2019t any of the other teachers, who picked up the phone and called,\u201d he said.