When Newtown Board of Education officials met publicly Tuesday night for the first time since the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, they faced a pressing deadline on an education budget that had suddenly become uncertain.
"Going forward, we're going to find we have a lot of concerns needing to be addressed that have financial implications," BOE Chairman Debbie Leidlein said.
Unfortunately, she added, it's difficult. Because charter requirements dictate a tight deadline for budget referendums, the board must work quickly. Their timeline has been pushed back a week — already creating a hectic schedule for board members — and the board will see the first proposed draft of the budget Thursday.
"We'll be presented with this budget next week and we won't know what those needs are for months," Leidlein said. "So I'm a little torn ... [The existing plan] is an extensive list of budget goals, but I also place a lot of priority on the needs our students and faculty are going to face over the coming months and years — and I want to make sure we do right by them."
So Leidlein added an amendment, approved unanimously by the board: whatever concerns end up in the budget, the top priority should be, in her words, "adequate funding to meet the needs of our students and staff resulting from the events of December 14."
"We're Talking 18 Months Out"
Existing goals, like plans for all-day kindergarten, will remain. But many aspects of support relating to the shooting are still unclear, Leidlein said.
"We're talking about a budget that's going to cover all our 2013-14 school year ... We need to make sure that throughout the next coming school year, we have an appropriate amount for security, or any type of services our students or staff might need in regards to mental health. We're talking 18 months out."
One possible boon could come in the form of federal aid. Superintendent Janet Robinson told the board she was working with Assistant Superintendent Linda Gejda on an application for a federal School Emergency Response to Violence grant, and had recently spoken with the U.S. Undersecretary of Education on the possibility of funding from the project.
"They're very strict, but we feel we have some needs ... that are around securing the current school, and for mental health support and security support," Robinson said. "We're trying to do as much as we can with that grant application."
"We'll Do Whatever We Have to Do for Them"
Working out a final budget to offer voters is "a very long, complicated process," as board member William Hart said.
"Once it goes to the voters, we're locked to a total number," Hart told Patch. "Now, this board has an option to change how we spend the money throughout the year. We just have to stay within the total amount that gets voted on in the budget referendum. Obviously, if something comes up, we'll make the changes necessary to support them."
Hart said a lot of resources are being made available to Newtown's schools, so he's not worried.
"Any time I call somebody asking for help, nobody's ever said no," he said. "We're getting a lot of help, and I'm sure that help will still be available. But clearly, the number one priority is the health of all of our students and our staff — especially those people who went through that. The families, the kids who were closest to them — we'll do whatever we have to do for them. The budget, as far as I'm concerned, is secondary."