August 21, 2019

Op-Ed: Region 18 School Budget is Cause for Concern, Public Forum Tonight is an Opportunity to Raise Questions

This op-ed was submitted by Emerson Colwell of Old Lyme.

As a taxpayer in Lyme/Old Lyme, I am writing today because I am extremely concerned about the 2019/2020 School Budget. I feel like there should be a great deal more discussion around a town funded preschool program, something that will directly affect our taxes forever if adopted. Below are just a few of the questions and concerns I have about the proposal.

Region 18 has a large responsibility with the highly achieving academics in our K-12 programs. While the idea of free preschool is one that most people would feel positive about, is $400,000 an expense that you feel should come before our current program needs?

At the last Board meeting on January 16th, Mr. Neviaser clearly stated that he would not take the preschool program out if the budget does not get approved. Region 18 is willing to spend $400,000 + of taxpayer money (that has not been approved by the town) to start a preschool for 17 children and take money out of programs for our currently enrolled 1200 students to fund it?

How is spending $400,000 on a new program that will require yearly funding and take potential funds away from existing programs “for” our kids?

Why is it necessary for taxpayers to pay for every kid to go to preschool?

One “fear” brought up in favor of rushing the proposed plan is that if it’s not done this year, the cost of remodeling Center School will go up. Let’s counter that with the “fear” that the longer our facilities are left unrepaired, the larger those costs will be on the taxpayers.

For less than $400,000, Lyme Consolidated could have a new hvac system and gym floor, two costs identified as necessary in the five year plan. For $250,000, Region 18 can fully fund the entire cost of the tennis courts which were deemed unusable. Why isn’t there a rush to repair our existing facilities that are servicing our 1200 students? Why can’t either or both of these costs be in this year’s budget instead of a new program that services so few children?

I’ve heard that the school board is going to ask to borrow money in a few years to cover all the facility costs. Does it make sense to push through a new preschool program that will need continuous yearly funding when we aren’t putting money in to repair our existing programs that need immediate repair?

There was a lot of talk about kindergarten readiness. Chances are that, here in CT, most kids have been provided with some form of early education. Does anyone know exactly how many of our current kindergarteners have had zero school exposure before entering Region 18? Do we know how many people would willingly pay to send their kids to preschool? Is it really necessary for the taxpayers of Lyme and Old Lyme to pay $400,000 for all of the 17 four year olds to have a preschool experience? Especially when we have current programs that are not being funded in the 2019/2020 budget?

The proposed preschool expansion cost of $400,000 is approximately $22,000 per child for 17 children. This cost is not just this year, it’s forever. Have  they forecasted the complete annual costs for the program including facilities, repairs, teachers, IAs’, and the cost of the specials programs? Will the program require an administrator? Have they created a twenty year projection of the tax impact on the people who live in town? Have the BOE thought about using existing classrooms at Lyme Consolidated or Mile Creek that already have age appropriate toilets? Then Center School wouldn’t need $180,000 for a four to three room makeover, that’s a large amount of money that could be saved. Just because a space is empty doesn’t mean that you spend $400,000 to fill it.

The current success of our K-12 schools and programs has nothing to do with whether the children attended preschool or not. It has to do with the education and support they are receiving during those years. Is the current Region 18 staff 100% happy? Are they being provided enough support? Is there money that should be used to better support our current teachers and administrative staff? I understand that they are working on a review program, that’s great. I hope they really hear the concerns of the public

I highly encourage everyone opposed or in favor of this proposal to attend the BOE meetings tomorrow night at Center School at 5 pm for facilities meeting and 6:15 pm for the proposed 2019/2020 budget.

Editor’s Note:  Information we have received indicates that the Special Board of Education Meeting, which includes a Public Forum on the proposed 2019-2020 budget for the Lyme-Old Lyme Public Schools, is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. in the Board of Education Conference Room at Center School.

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