A Complicated Decision
To the Editor:
Last night, the Board of Finance was asked to consider a request to transfer approximately $1.3 million to the Board of Education’s non-lapsing account. This budget surplus resulted from the pandemic and the closure of schools last spring. The justification provided for the purpose of the funds was to cover potential ongoing expenses related to Covid. Unfortunately, the Board of Finance could not agree on the approval of a transfer. There were approximately 2.5 hours of debate and many failed amendments to try to reach a compromise, but we could not get there. Today, I write to explain my position.
The topic of this impending transfer request has been at the forefront of Board of Finance business since April, generally through policy discussions. My position has always been that the Board of Education should have available to it the money that it needs in order to safely reopen schools in the fall and to keep them open. Last night we learned that there is a total of $832,000 currently available to the Board of Education to use for Covid expenses. This amount is separate from last year’s budget surplus. For me, there was too much uncertainty regarding what the future holds and whether those expenses would materialize above and beyond the money that was already available. There was also a significant concern that Newtown households had suffered enough during this pandemic — whether through loss of income or increased childcare expenses as a few examples. In addition, we are working with an operating budget that was put together by the Board of Education and approved by the Board of Finance before the pandemic hit us and there will undoubtedly be additional savings realized because of the reduced model that we are in. In the end, I could not in good conscience tie up a sum of money that could potentially be used to pass on some relief directly to our taxpayers when all the while there is a sizable sum of money already available.
I am concerned for what may come in the next few months for our schools and our town, but I do not make decisions based on fear. Although we disagreed on the result, as a Board we pledged to address and support any concrete need that materializes in this coming year — whether Covid-related or not. So while many will hear today and for days to come that the Board of Finance did not support the Board of Education last night, my hope is that anyone reading this letter will understand the complexity of the decision and appreciate that it was not reached lightly or without much consideration.
These comments are my own as an individual and not on behalf of the Board of Finance, of which I am a member and Chair.
38 Maltbie Road, Newtown September 15, 2020