Parents, students voice budget concerns at Saturday morning

Keep class sizes the same and don’t cut any teacher positions.

That was the message more than a dozen residents delivered during Saturday’s public hearing on the proposed 2018-19 school budget. Three spoke against the school district spending more money next year.

Superintendent Karen Baldwin told the crowd of about 45 people who turned out to speak Saturday morning in the high school’s auditorium that there would be no staffing cuts to art teachers in Ridgefield’s six elementary schools or to English teachers who teach at the high school.

As a result, Baldwin said her proposed $96.6-million budget — a 4.23% increase from the 2017-18 school budget — would see class-size maximums stay at their current level throughout the district.

For now.

“Class sizes are intact in this budget…. whether that remains going forward, remains to be seen,” Baldwin said.

But, she told the room, staffing cuts could be back on the table if the school budget is reduced when it goes before the Board of Finance in March.

‘A big mess’

Multiple speakers supported small class sizes.

“We had one year — last year — when one of our kids didn’t thrive, and it was a direct result of the class size,” said Wendy Apinis, who said she currently has three kids in the public school system. “It was tough on us, it was tough on my daughter, more importantly.”

Apinis said she posed a question to all three of her children — how would they feel if their teacher had seven new students.

She said her six-year-old told her “it would be a big mess, and there would be a lot of kids in the take-a-break chair.”

Her oldest child said, “I’m thankful it didn’t happen when I was there… the teacher would be so upset, and it would be more like herding cattle than teaching.”

Teachers over technology

Ridgefield High Senior Callie McQuilkin said that while she was glad the superintendent had restored the high school English teachers to the budget, she’d like to see that “teachers continue to be prioritized over technology.”

“If students already have computers, why do we need another computer lab?” McQuilkin asked.

She also questioned the amount of money the budget earmarks for professional development.

“I think we need to really ask ourselves, how much can these consultants really teach our teachers?” she said. “Especially the teachers who have been here for 20 years or 30 years.”

Think before you spend

While most members of the community spoke in favor of spending for teaching staff, some argued that the increase in local taxes from the school budget might negatively affect home and property values.

John Devine, a member of the Ridgefield Economic and Community Development Commission, reminded those gathered in the auditorium that Ridgefield does not have a large commercial tax base to draw on.

As a result, the town and school budget would directly affect the town mill rate. And under the the new Federal tax plan, Devine said, residents will lose the ability to write off more than $10,000 in state and local taxes from their federal income tax returns.

“If your taxes go up, your property values will be affected” he said. “You need to think about that when you go to ballot.”