On March 10, as part of the state’s emergency response to COVID-19, Governor Ned Lamont signed Executive Order 7L, releasing regional boards of education from their statutory obligations to hold in-person meetings and referenda, prior to adopting fiscal year 2020-21 budgets:
“[A]ny regional board of education shall adopt a budget for the July I, 2020 – June 30, 2021 fiscal year … without complying with any in-person budget adoption requirements, including but not to limited, annual district budget meetings requiring votes, referendum, and special district meetings.”
The change follows a number of other restrictions on social gathering that have been ordered by Lamont, including the postponement of votes and public meetings for approving municipal budgets.
As a result, taxpayers — in an uncertain economy – are left without a clear say in budget decisions over the coming year.
“I know it will upset plenty of residents who have been following the budget process not to be able to vote — our only way for input,” said Susan Wright, a resident of Chester, in regard to the Region 4 school district budget. “I am wondering what other towns that are regionalized might be thinking.”
Many regional school districts – including Region 4 and Lyme-Old Lyme – plan to host virtual board of education meetings and budget hearings while providing town residents the opportunity to call in for public comment.
“I am concerned that the R4 Board has not met since the outbreak of COVID -19 and [I] requested the administration to revisit the budget in light of COVID-19 and the impact it is having on Connecticut’s economy, state and local revenue, the actual workings of the schools, and specifically our three towns’ citizens,” said Virginia Carmany, chair of the Chester Board of Finance. “It may well fly under the radar for many voters unless it will be front page news in next week’s papers.”
Carmany said she is also concerned that the governor’s executive orders have shortened, not lengthened, the budget process and therefore the amount of time residents have to participate and for the board to make changes accordingly.
Both Lyme-Old Lyme and Region 4 superintendents said that they are planning to delay the board budget votes to allow for communication with the public and possible changes to the budget due to COVID-19.
“The Region 4 Board will be delaying their final vote until April 21st at 7:00 p.m. when a Special Meeting of the Region 4 Board of Education will be scheduled. This decision was made by the Board in an effort to maintain as much normalcy as possible with respect to the entire budget process and timeline,” said Region 4 superintendent Brian White in a press release this past Friday. “It will also allow additional time to communicate the COVID-19 related changes in the Region 4 budget process to all stakeholders. Additionally, the public will have extra time to provide feedback to the Region 4 Board before the Board votes to adopt the final 2020-21 Regional School District No. 4 budget at the April 21st Special Meeting.”
Both superintendents said that COVID-19 may spark changes in the 2020-21 budget.
“We will continue to revise the budget number up until May with Coronavirus in mind, normally we don’t change it at this point,” said Lyme-Old Lyme superintendent Ian Neviaser. “Nobody knows what the economy is going to look like for next year. We don’t know what the taxpayers’ situation will look like.”
This week all four boards of education in the two regions will be meeting:
- March 31, 11:00 a.m. – A Deep River Board of Education special meeting will be accessible via Google Meet. To listen remotely please dial (US)+1 601-779-1349 PIN: 526 881 232#
- April 1, 11:00 a.m. – Chester Board of Education special meeting will be accessible via Google Meet. To listen remotely please dial (US)+1 (470) 268-2281 PIN: 842 560 488#
- April 1, 6:30 p.m. – A Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education special meeting will be live streamed
- April 1, 7:00 p.m. – A Region 4 Board of Education meeting and public hearing on the budget will be accessible via Google Meet. To listen remotely please dial (US)+1 (304) 518-4012 PIN: 589 017 221#
Most municipal school districts, including East Lyme and Old Saybrook, have suspended all meetings for the time being.