Teachers turned out en masse Monday night to oppose the town's $127.9 million combined budget proposal for the 2012-13 fiscal year that includes the slashing of 22 school positions — including 15 teachers and seven paraprofessionals — and the addition of three municipal jobs.
The three new positions are an IT Administrator at a salary of $109,000, a treasurer/accountant for $60,000 and a community services position for $52,000. The community services position would have some flexibility to cover youth services and senior services as the need arose.
Many attendees who waited in line to speak were teachers, and they each had the same message: The staff reductions would not be the best source for savings.
Paula Gorham, a South End School teacher, said the cuts would hurt the educational process, most of all.
"I'm not asking the council to save my job, but please take a look at the effect class size has on students," Gorham said.
While teaching this past year, Gorham was involved with getting extended-day kindergarten implemented, and she feels the program is advantageous to youngsters.
Council member John Barry expressed alarm when addressing Board of Finance Chairman John J. Leary.
"How can you say hiring new town employees will save taxpayers money? I don't believe the rhetoric. Hiring is not happening across government. Workers are being laid off everywhere. Why should Southington be different?"
Leary responded, "Take a look at Rails to Trails and the school rennovations. Projects that add to town value are worth it — we have to keep moving in the direction of improvements."
Board Of Education member Brian S. Goralski reminded the council and public that, "The building we are standing in was voted on to improve. The budget is very complex and the workshops leading up to tonight were rich in content and substance. The growth of our town and our needs are reflected in this budget. The Board of Finance and the Board of Education have to plan together to grow."
Businesswoman Pamela Depaolo said "Challenges today are hard because of difficult times. It's hard seeing kids who can't afford a YMCA membership."
To cut costs, Depaolo suggested developing affordable activities for the town's youth; examining part-time vs. full-time for new government hires; analyzing the Parking Authority expenditures; combating blight; and keeping special permits to a limit as they are creating noise, pollution and are detracting from Southington's open space."
Kelley Elementary Kindergarten teacher Katherine Soltys said teachers can't be effective when they're moved around.
School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. addressed John Barry's concern of letting teachers go.
"If history holds true, resignations and retirements come at the end of the school year. We may be looking at fewer staff reductions, but won't know for certain until then."
Chairman Edward S. Pocock III said, "Times are hard now. I want town services to stay level and the BOE gives us hope for that."
Council members will vote on a final budget in May.