In a recent New Milford School Board meeting, contentious issues around staff cuts, rising benefit costs, and budget reductions took center stage. The meeting, characterized by emotional exchanges and robust debate, was dominated by community concerns about the impact of these decisions on the quality of education in the district.
The focal point of the discussion was the revelation of 22 staff positions being abolished, including vital roles such as math provider, director of constructivist learning, and supervisor of special education. The proposed eliminations extend to high school, middle school, and elementary level teaching positions. One participant, Lynn, highlighted her concerns about the potential domino effect of these job cuts, stressing the moral obligation to convey such news to the affected individuals in person, with administrative support.
Stephanie Kuchar, the Business Administrator, shed light on the complex nature of health benefit costs, which have surged by over 15 percent. This increase, coupled with the tricky alignment of fiscal and calendar years, contributed significantly to the budget strain, she explained. Despite the resolution outlining the abolished positions, the board members conveyed hope that, with sufficient Title One funding, some positions could be reinstated.
State aid cuts and rapid budget submission timelines further complicated the situation. With a mere two-week window to adapt to the reduction in state aid, the board was under immense pressure. The state provided stabilization aid to districts, but it couldn’t be used for salaries or to replace positions cut from the budget, adding to the financial squeeze.
A persistent theme of the meeting was the need for transparency and improved communication between the board and community members. One parent voiced her frustration over what she perceived as a lack of clarity in the application process to gifted programs. She alleged that the board led her to believe her child would be considered for a program after an evaluation, only to receive a letter denying admission due to lack of space. This incident sparked a broader discussion, with other parents echoing the sentiment and emphasizing the need for transparency in kindergarten admissions and the board’s handling of late enrolments.
Responding to these concerns, the board defensively stressed the importance of finding a balance between serving as a conduit for community concerns and aligning with administrative directives. The board members claimed that as elected representatives, their role is twofold: to be a bridge between the community and the school system while ensuring that the school district operates smoothly in accordance with established policies and procedures.
Community members also voiced dissatisfaction with the board’s perceived lack of transparency, particularly regarding budget matters. Rudy Navarro accused the board of selectively answering questions while leaving others unanswered. He criticized the board’s practice of referring residents to prior video meetings for answers. The board countered, explaining that these meetings were primarily for observing board business and detailed budget discussions had already taken place in previous sessions.
As costs continue to rise and budgets become increasingly strained, the impact on students remains a significant concern. The board acknowledged this, with one member suggesting a resolution to the state, demanding their intervention to alleviate the district from its financial burden.