Opinion: Do not shortchange Trumbull students

Exterior of Trumbull High School, in Trumbull

Exterior of Trumbull High School, in Trumbull

File photo

Making decisions regarding school funding and budgeting is always a difficult task. During this process, hard decisions have to be made that directly impact students and the type of education they receive in their community.

More than ever, the global pandemic has heightened this focus and responsibility, once again proving the value of well-funded educational practices as a necessity for teachers and school staff. The Trumbull Education Association supports the Board of Education’s initial budget request for the 2021-2022 school year in hopes that Trumbull Public Schools will be able to fully support the continued success of our students.

To the Trumbull community, the request may seem larger than needed, but it is absolutely necessary. Over the past five years, the district has had to make up for shortfalls in the budget due to a variety of factors. The 2016-2017 and 2017-2018’s below-2-percent budget increases left the district trying to find ways to provide the same level of educational services without the proper funding levels from previous years. The recent audit/operational review has also brought concerns from town government officials, and as Mike Miller of Trumbull’s Town Council stated at the Board of Education’s Feb. 9 meeting, the report “showed recurring mismanagement of how funds were allocated.”

Board of Finance member Marty Issac also pointed out at their recent meeting on Feb. 12, that while “other towns had significant surplus because of COVID, our town did not have significant surplus. They took every dollar in surplus savings ... and used it to close their budget gap.” The results of the initial audit have even prompted First Selectwoman Vicki Tesoro and other town officials to call for a much more detailed forensic audit, and the TEA supports her in this initiative to discover the specific reasons for these shortfalls and allocations.

Due to these realities, teachers and unfortunately students have had to make due with less resources and services. Over the last five years, spending freezes were instituted (some taking place in the first few months of school) on certain accounts that directly went towards supplies, books, equipment and other resources that were earmarked for student use. As part of Dr. Semmel’s Feb. 9 presentation to the Board of Education, the superintendent pointed out that Trumbull ranks well behind surrounding districts in terms of per-pupil expenditure, ranking 17 out of 21 in our DRG (about $8 million below the average) and in Fairfield County, Trumbull ranks 16 out of 19 districts.

The stats show that Trumbull has “done more with less” for the better part of a decade, but just as the audit/operational review demonstrated, these practices eventually lead to significant budgetary problems. With new safeguards and practices in place, this year’s budget request will help get the district back on the path to financial stability for this year and the future. When the 2021-2022 school year begins our students, your children, will need every support the town can provide as they recover academically and emotionally from a worldwide pandemic. Do not shortchange our school systems and make this daunting challenge more difficult to obtain.

John Mastrianni is president of the Trumbull Education Association Representative Council.