WALLINGFORD — The Town Council discussed the Board of Education’s budget request Thursday evening, focusing questions on bus routes and special education spending.
Education accounts for more than 60 percent of the mayor’s proposed $169 million budget for 2019-20. The school board requested $104,248,401 and Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. proposed spending $103,461,862, a difference of $786,539, or less than 1 percent.
School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo, Board of Education Chairwoman Roxane McKay and School Business Manager Dominic Barone answered the council’s questions.
Councilor John LeTourneau asked if parents have ever been asked to contribute to special education or transportation costs.
Every year, LeTourneau said, there’s “more and more kids with more and more problems,” adding that he doesn’t want to see schools become a "health care facility."
Menzo said it would be a violation of federal law to ask parents to contribute.
“(Parents) see what we can do for them as gift for their child, to make him or her be as successful as possible,” Menzo said. The challenge and increased costs, he said, comes with outplacement of students who need services beyond Wallingford.
He added that the burden of proof lies on the school district to prove they're offering appropriate services, and families are entitled to due process if they disagree.
McKay said that transportation costs for special education children could add a significant amount of expense to the budget, "but it's absolutely the right thing to do."
“It's so complex” she said, for the families and the school district "to do all the right things for all the right reasons."
Councilor Christopher Shortell asked how much of special education spending is covered by grants. Menzo said approximately $3 million to $5 million.
Councilor Jason Zandri asked about the planning of bus stops, citing long lines of traffic behind buses that stop at every third house.
Menzo said there’s many reasons for planning stops. A student may have medical issue, for example, he said.
"It's not a clear-cut thing," he said.
LeTourneau asked if parents could contribute to bussing.
Menzo said that by statute, parents can't be asked to contribute, and the school district can't "create a menu" of services.
"If we can't do that, we have to make it better somehow," LeTourneau said.
Other town department scheduled for Thursday were the school district food services/cafeteria budget, Youth & Social Services and Parks & Recreation.
The workshops, held throughout April and early May, give councilors a chance to question department heads about their budget requests.
The Town Council can make amendments to Dickinson's budget before voting to adopt a 2019-20 budget. If the council does not adopt an amended budget, the mayor's proposal goes into effect automatically.