School board plans budget hearings for Saturday, Monday

Got an opinion on school spending?

The Board of Education will host a pair of public hearings this week where residents can share thoughts on the district’s proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year

The first hearing, which has been moved to the Ridgefield High School auditorium, will begin at 9:30 a.m Saturday, Feb. 24. A special meeting of the Board of Education may be held after the hearing, but that has not yet been confirmed.

The original venue, a conference room in the town hall annex where the Board of Education normally meets bi-monthly on Monday nights, was changed out of concern for parking and standing room for residents wishing to speak.

Around 100 people attended the Board of Education meeting on Feb. 12, filling the conference room.

The superintendent’s office said that holding the hearing at either Scotts Ridge or East Ridge middle schools, where the annual Saturday morning public hearing is typically held, would have disrupted student performances in the auditoriums.

The second public hearing on the school budget will be held Monday, Feb. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the board’s conference room in the town hall annex.

Out of concern for parking at the Feb. 26 meeting, the superintendent's office said the district would provide a shuttle from the parking lot of East Ridge Middle School to the Town Hall Annex on Prospect Street. The Ridgefield Playhouse has a production of "La Boheme" scheduled for 6 p.m. that evening.

Budget request back up

The school budget increase request for next year is back up to 4.23% — over $96 million — after the Board of Education decided it didn’t have an appetite for cutting teachers and raising the number of students in a classroom.

Those were some of the cuts Superintendent Karen Baldwin had proposed to bring the budget increase to 3.1% — down from her original 4.83% — in hope of making the budget more palatable to the Board of Finance.

“I think I admire their optimism,” said Chairwoman Fran Walton after the meeting. “It’s great to support a budget that supports the children.”

Cutting the budget back to a 4.23% increase, or $96,555,184, would bring the budget just under the state-mandated 2.5% spending cap, since state law allows towns to subtract money spent on special education.

Asked whether the board’s decision was related to student safety, Baldwin said, “I think it’s to meet the needs of all learners.”