Darien residents favor school budget
Despite being a public hearing for both the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen's budgets, residents were far more concerned with school spending Tuesday night.
Sload discussed the need to continue to finance the schools at a healthy level because enrollment continues to increase and Darien has the highest percentage of children under the age of 18.
"All taxpayers have a vested interest in the excellence of Darien schools because it is one of the major factors valued by future residents," Sload said. "We all need people to who consider moving here to be able to look at our schools and believe that their children will have an education at least comparable to the education they would receive in towns like New Canaan, Westport and Greenwich, the towns to which we are often compared."
Orem touched on the contributions from parent groups as budget pressures continue to weigh on the schools.
"Darien PTO's give more money, more consistently than our peers," Orem said. "Other groups in town have donated generously on an ongoing basis to technology initiatives, sports and music. We are fortunate to have such generous donors in our town, but the question remains: what things should be funded by donation and what things should be paid for by taxpayers as part of a public school education?"
Nick Branca also spoke in favor of the school budget, saying the school system was a big part of the reason why his family moved into town.
"We always heard Darien had great schools and we have four kids in the Darien Public Schools," Branca said. "As a result, I pay more attention to the details and things seem to be getting worse."
Branca expressed concerns with increasing class sizes as a result of budget constraints. He said one of his children who is in kindergarten is in a class of 24, which is far larger class than any of his other children were in. Branca said he had talked to a number of parents who were trying to send their children to other schools as a result of the large class sizes.
"More and more residents are realizing our schools aren't the best," Branca said. "My support is for more than the proposed budget."
Arjun Krishnamachar was more neutral on the subject of the school budget.
"I'm not particularly for or against this budget," Krishnamachar said. "However, unlike the U.S. government, we don't have the luxury of spending what we don't have."
Krishnamachar acknowledged he wasn't as familiar with the budgeting process as he should be, but he did suggest there may be a better way of budgeting money for the schools.
"It doesn't make sense to do one year budgets when you have long term commitments," Krishnamachar said. "The budgeting process needs to be changed to be more consistent."
Krishnamachar also added that as long as Darien remains an attractive place to raise a family, taxes will continue to increase.
"We're either providing too good of an education or not charging enough," Krishnamachar said. "We do not live in a world with infinite resources."
Jim McIlree was one of the few residents who openly opposed the proposed budget.
McIlree voiced concerns about the increase in the budget in comparison to the projected enrollment numbers.
"I, too, support quality education, but I find the current budget request troubling when [project] enrollment is less than 1 percent," McIlree said. "This is an $18 million increase for no more than 300 students."
McIlree said there needed to be more fiscal discipline because future generations of children would be at risk if the budgets continued to increase at their current rate.
John Sini ended the public hearing in support of the budget saying he moved to Darien because he knew if was a fiscally conservative town. However, he said the conservative nature of the town has actually begun to be a detriment because the school budget has increased as a result of projects that were deferred in years past.
"I've started looking at the town budget in a different light," Sini said. "We are now being forced to fix these problems and I would like to see the Board of Finance to look at this year as a catch up year."