Photo: Erin Kayata / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Darien parents gathered to give feedback on the proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year at a Board of Education meeting in Darien on Jan. 30.

DARIEN — Parents came out to advocate for social and emotional learning, high school sports teams and a new tuba at a public hearing of the school district’s proposed 2018-19 budget.

Freshman and junior varsity high school sport teams, new art supplies and band equipment are all potentially on the chopping block as the Board of Education looks to make cuts to the superintendent’s proposed $98 million budget, a 2.74 percent increase. The board has already made adjustments to cut the number down by $14,355, but is aiming to make further cuts.

“Like many of you we’ve all chosen to go to the high school or be here because we are looking to build whole children,” said Maggie Cellar, a parent of two teenage boys. “I think that’s what Darien High School wants to do. I think eliminating JV and freshman sports shouldn’t be considered now or ever, because these activities build whole children and help develop community.”

Cellar went on to say how sports help structure students’ days and teach them accountability.

“Whether they play or not is not the reason they’re on the teams,” she said at the Jan. 30 school board meeting. “They’re looking to build confidence and be part of something. It’s not about winning.”

Cutting all freshman and JV sports teams would save $272,023, though other parents echoed Cellar’s sentiments.

Parents also advocated against potential cuts to the art supplies budget at the high school, as well as the elimination of the funds needed to replace an allegedly 25-year-old tuba at the high school.

“I’m here to talk tuba,” said resident Rob Warner, who identified himself as “not a tuba parent.” “I respectfully request this board keep funding for one new tuba in the high school band budget. There are five tuba players and three tubas. If you’ve ever done anything with a tuba, you know there’s a lot of saliva in them. You don’t want to be next guy up on the tuba.”

“Save the tuba,” he said after pointing out the benefits of the high school band.

The proposed tuba would cost $7,805. Art supplies cuts would save the district $5,880.

If all the proposed cuts are adopted, the year-over-year budget increase would be 2.54 percent, rather than the current proposal of 2.74 percent.

Many parents did speak in support of the budget, pushing for the maintenance of computer science programs and social and emotional learning at the middle school level, particularly with the rise of mental health issues in young teens, including self-harm, and the increased use of social media.

Marla Chandler, co-chairwoman of the Middlesex Middle School Parents’ Association, said there are children at the high school struggling with issues like bullying and substance abuse and need social and emotional learning to be taught how to cope.

“These kids are all of our kids right here in our town, in our schools,” Chandler said. “We must support them, along with guidance counselors, teachers and administrators who want the best for them.”

More comments were made about the district’s facilities plan in regard to the capital budget, particularly when it comes to making a decision about Ox Ridge School, which one parent said is beyond repair with a failing infrastructure, poor lighting and poor ventilation.

“A renovation would address some concerns, but we’ll be left with a failing infrastructure,” said Katie Lovlyn, a parent of two Ox Ridge students.

ekayata@hearstmediact

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