DARIEN — More than two dozen parents and teachers lined up at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting to protest the elimination of teaching and staff positions in the proposed FY 24-25 school budget.
Darien’s proposed $121.5 school budget represents a 6.19 percent increase, or approximately $7 million in additional spending, over last year.
The district attributed the higher-than-average boost in spending – a fiscal challenge that neighboring schools districts are also facing – to pay raises for teachers as well as rising health insurance and special education costs.
To help temper the spending increases, the proposed budget includes a major administrative restructuring and staff cuts in the elementary schools and middle school.
Darien Superintendent Alan Addley has asked for a reduction in music and art positions at the elementary schools as well as a consolidation in oversight of art, music and the performing arts into one administrative position.
Many parents expressed their concerns about the impact of those cuts on the arts. Addley maintained that the changes reflect scheduling efficiencies and that no programs are being cut as a result of the reductions. But Lauren Pine, Darien mother of two and music instructor at Westport’s Staples High School, told members, “the math just doesn’t add up.”
Pine also raised questions about the district’s priorities in light of the proposed reductions. “In a very sports-centric town we need to be careful that we don’t continue to fund athletics and continue to cut and exclude the arts,” she warned.
Jennifer Keating, a Darien parent of three, suggested that the cuts send the wrong message. “We are signaling to students that we don’t value the arts and music,” she said.
Parents also voiced their concerns about a different cost-saving proposal in the budget – saying “adios” to the World Language Department Chair. Restructuring this position would amount to a savings of $183,275, according to the proposed budget.
Citing the importance of studying a foreign language, Darien High School Parents Association Co-chair Kelly Scallon, reminded the board that selective colleges expect to see at least three years of foreign language on an applicant’s transcript.
She also pointed out that with 84 percent of Darien high school students enrolled in a language class, the World Language chair “has a lot of responsibilities that cannot be easily parceled out to others.”
As part of the administrative overhaul, Addley has asked for two additional assistant principals, at a combined cost of $454,622, to help spread the workload of attending mandatory planning meetings for special education students.
In expressing her support for restoring the World Language department chair, Darien parent Kate Haavik expressed disappointment that the district wants to add administrators at a time when it is eliminating teachers. “I don’t understand, as a taxpayer, why we would be adding an assistant principal in middle school but taking away a language position?”
A public hearing on the proposed school budget is scheduled for Jan. 30. The Board of Education members will vote on the proposed cuts and the administrative restructuring at their Feb. 13 meeting.
Separate proposals to hike parking fees at the high school, add $5 to the cost of a Turkey Bowl ticket and impose participation fees for sports and clubs will also be under consideration at the Feb. meeting.