Commentary: Shelton can afford to fund full-day kindergarten

The Board of Aldermen (BOA) passed the budget for the next fiscal year last week after some intense discussion regarding whether the budget provided the Board of Education (BOE) with enough money to fund full-day kindergarten (FDK).

Mayor Mark Lauretti’s argument against increasing the amount of funding for the BOE centered on the fact the BOE controls its own budget and how the BOE spends the money is up to the BOE and not the city.

The mayor believes, as does the majority on the BOA, a 3.5% increase to the BOE budget is adequate to not only maintain the current level of education but also to implement FDK. The chairman of the BOE, a Republican, has made it clear that is not the case.

The Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T) put forth a suggested budget that not only kept the mill rate the same but also funded FDK and eliminated pay-to-play for the BOE. The recommendations of A&T were ignored.

Reserve account has the funds

The BOA president said taking money from the surplus (the A&T-suggested approach) would jeopardize the city’s bond rating.

We all should understand that currently the city has over $11 million in its reserve account, and taking several hundred thousand dollars out of the reserve account to fund FDK would not adversely impact the city’s bond rating.

Even the city finance director conceded at an A&T workshop that a reserve account of $8 million is adequate.

If we look at past budgets we find that many city departments routinely return millions of dollars each year in combined, unspent money. One could simply move a portion of the over-funding to the BOE budget to pay for FDK and still not raise taxes.

Best of both worlds

We then have the best of both worlds — taxes would stay the same and FDK would get implemented. We also would have a budget that more closely represents what it truly costs to run the city.

If city residents, the BOE and A&T support FDK, then why didn’t the BOA fully fund the program?

This isn’t a Republican/Democrat issue. The BOE is chaired by a Republican and the Republicans control the BOE. The BOE voted unanimously to support FDK.

The explanations offered for saying no to additional funding for FDK just don’t add up.

Unfair scrutiny on education spending

The requested budget of every board or department, including the BOE, should be scrutinized. However, unlike most other departments or boards, it seems that the BOE is the target of criticism and distrust in every budget cycle.

Often times, the discussion pits the funding of our children’s education vs. keeping the city’s taxes low. It shouldn’t be that way, especially regarding implementation of FDK.

As stated above, there are various methods to provide funding to the BOE for FDK without raising taxes at all.

Saves money and helps home values

Further, studies have demonstrated that FDK will save money in the future through lower remediation costs. Property values increase with a better education system.

Just as important, funding and implementation of FDK will benefit our children.

One has to wonder is this 1994 or 2014. The rest of the country is moving on the idea of full-day pre-kindergarten, and we are still discussing FDK.

David Gioiello is chairman of the Shelton Democratic Town Committee. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2013 and 2007.