NORTH STONINGTON — The Board of Education budget that was defeated by 10 votes on Monday will go to a second referendum on Dec. 18.
That is the intent of the newly elected Board of Finance, which decided Wednesday to send the proposed education budget, without changes, back to the Board of Selectmen. The budget called for level funding. The selectmen will meet Friday, and the finance board’s decision gives them enough time to advertise on Monday for a town meeting on Dec. 11 and the referendum a week later.
It was the new finance board’s first meeting and the members unanimously elected Dan Spring as chairman, Paul Simonds as vice chairman and Carolyn Howell as secretary. Spring, a financial adviser, was a member of the board from 2010 to 2015. Simonds is a senior manager at Pfizer and chairs the Town Government Structure Committee. Howell is serving her third year of a four-year term on the board and was previously elected as secretary.
Also seated were Tim Main II, former chairman of the board, newly elected member Mike Anderson, and member Mustapha Ratib, who participated via speakerphone. Newly elected alternate Candis Banks was also present. Main cast the only dissenting vote.
Superintendent of Schools Peter Nero spoke to the board about the education budget, pointing out the district had zero increases in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017, and a less than a 1 percent increase in 2016.
Of the 1,048 public and regional schools in the state, North Stonington Elementary School and Wheeler High School were recognized as Schools of Distinction, an award achieved by 116 schools across the state, Nero said.
He said that the perception that the district had a high expenditure per pupil was untrue. Within its District Reference Group of 33 districts, North Stonington ranked 26th at $15,871 per pupil. Sharon ranked first at $30,695 per student, and Woodstock was lowest at $13,974 per student, he said.
“So we get a tremendous amount of bang for our buck in what we get for our kids here,” Nero said. He attributed the rejection of the education budget to a lack of communication with the voters and the scheduling of the referendum directly after a holiday weekend.
He also requested that a member of the Board of Finance be appointed as liaison between the Board of Education and the town to improve future communication.
Spring said the schools’ rankings showed that the school district was doing an excellent job academically with minimal budget increases. He said it was important to bring the education budget to another town meeting and referendum as soon as possible so that the new mill rate could be set and tax bills sent out to residents.
First Selectman Mike Urgo urged the finance board to move the town forward since nearly half of the fiscal year had already passed.
The $12.87 million education budget lost on a 294-284 vote. Resident Brian Rathbun said he thought voters’ rejection of the budget reflected how financially stressed residents were feeling. “Everyone is making adjustments and people are feeling the squeeze,” he said.
Spring said investing in education would grow the grand list, which would ultimately bring relief to the taxpayers. “Education has a direct correlation to economic success,” he said.