Stonington — A large group of school budget supporters pleaded with the Board of Finance Wednesday night to restore the $156,215 it had cut from the 2012-13 school budget, proposed at $33 million.
Several of the 150 people in the Stonington High School auditorium urged the finance board to use money from its healthy $11.5 million undesignated fund balance to offset the $156,000.
The effort paid off, as the Board of Finance agreed to take an additional $300,000 from the fund balance and give half of it to the school budget, restoring nearly all of the cut. The other $150,000 will be used to lower the proposed tax rate.
The proposed budget, which will go to a May 8 referendum vote, now totals $57.1 million. It would increase the tax rate by 0.42 mills, to 16.05 mills.
The budget supporters pointed out that the town currently has $2.2 million more in the surplus than what is needed to maintain its high bond rating; that rating saves the town significant money when it needs to borrow for large projects. The finance board already planned to use $500,000 from the surplus to offset the tax rate next year. It has used money from the fund in the past several years but was able to restore it because of increased revenue.
The fund is designed to not only preserve the town bond rating but also provide two months of operating expenses in the event of an emergency. The finance board had been reluctant to use the money because doing so means the town automatically faces a revenue shortfall in the following year’s budget.
Board Chairman Glenn Frishman told the crowd that doing so results in a “graveyard spiral” leaving the town in a position like New London, which has little surplus.
Some of the biggest applause came for former school board member Doug Rea, who said the fund should be used for what it was designed — tough times.
“I’m not sure what apocalyptic event we’re waiting for to use that fund,” he said, pointing out that the town has faced both a flood and tropical storm over the past two years.
“It’s discouraging for us taxpayers to see every service get cut,” he said. “I’ve been paying into that fund now for 14 years, and I want it to be used for the services we deserve in this town.”
Parent Sue Jones urged the board to restore the $156,215.
“It’s time for the Board of Finance to act in the best interest of the young people of this community,” she said.
Parent Gordon Lord agreed, saying, “We need to fund investments to take our children where they need to go.”
Krissa Anderson, co-chairwoman of the West Vine-West Broad Street School PTO, said parents have reluctantly accepted minimal increases in the school budget in past years to get the budget approved by voters.
“Stonington schools can no longer afford to operate on a minimalist approach,” she said.
Other speakers urged the board to restore the money and let voters decide whether to approve it.