The following is a letter from Democrats on the Monroe Board of Education:
To the Editor:
We believe that it is the Board of Education’s job to put a budget out to the people that encompasses everything that we think is needed to provide a high quality education to Monroe’s students. Monroe’s student population is growing significantly. In the current school year, we are already at the 2024-2025 projected enrollment from our demographic study commissioned last year. The last time we had this many students Monroe had an additional 18 teachers.
We are pleased that the budget was able to pass on a bipartisan vote. Hopefully, this year, the people of Monroe will get to weigh in on what they want to be the final appropriation for education spending to be. Unfortunately, the crisis in education is just beginning. School year 2020-2021 is experiencing unprecedented challenges that have never been seen. And at the current moment, we don’t know what modality we will start school in September.
Ensuring the proper funding of our schools has been elusive. The BOE is at a structural disadvantage because we can be cut by the First Selectman and the Board of Finance (BOF) before our budget goes before the people.
We hope that BOF members and the First Selectman have been watching our meetings. Last year, neither First Selectman Kellogg nor BOF Chair Manjos attended a single minute of our 17+ hours of budget meetings. Yet, they went on to cut $1.5M of the education budget. If the BOF or First Selectman cut our budget, they should propose what they want cut. They have the easy job – cut a number and leave the rest to the BOE.
The BOE is also at a disadvantage because of the stubbornness of the Town Council. The Council refuses to put a non-binding advisory question on the referendum ballot asking if the budget is too high or too low. A simple binary “Yes” vs. “No” does not provide enough information. We have to make the false assumption that every single “No” voter wants to slash the budget.
We further hope that the BOE is able to have a joint meeting with the BOF when the BOE budget comes before them. The BOF has joint meetings with the Town Council for the town side of the budget, yet when they discuss the BOE budget, only the BOE Chair and Superintendent are able to have a voice. Every BOE member should be able to have their voice heard at every stage of the process when the BOE budget is being discussed.
Our budget is not out of line with what superintendents have proposed in other districts across the state. The Westport superintendent has proposed a 5.3% increase, Fairfield has proposed a 5% increase, and New Canaan proposed increased is 6.2%. The proposals in Brookfield and Greenwich call for an increase of 4% while Stonington’s superintendent has proposed an 8.9% increase. The Monroe BOE is also facing the headwinds of the furlough days that all of our unions took last year. We were the only district in the state where our employees gave back.
We believe that every Monroe voter should be allowed to vote on a proposal to fully fund the BOE budget. We believe we should get a shot at passing this budget at referendum, as is. The people should have the final say on what they believe the budget should be.