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PTOs to Board of Ed: Don't Cut Proposed Budget

Representatives from various Darien Parent-Teacher Organizations speaking at Tuesday night's Board of Education public hearing on the 2013-2014 budget asked the board not to cut the superintendent's proposed 4.07 percent increase.

Several speakers, all from Parent Teacher Organizations in Darien Public Schools, urged the Board of Education to support the few new spending initiatives in the superintendent's proposed budget and asked that the spending proposal for technology not be cut.

Darien spends a much smaller percentage of its education budget on computers and other digital technology than do similar school districts, said Susan Vogel, co-chair of the Council of Darien School Parents, an umbrella organization for Darien's PTOs.

A chart she presented showed Wilton, New Canaan, Greenwich, Fairfield and Weston spending at least 2.5 percent of their budgets on technology, while Darien was spending roughly half that percentage, surpassed by Stratford and Norwalk.

"Our district has always, and continues to take a more cautious and conservative approach to technology investments," Vogel said. "Last year we were at the bottom of the list of comparable schools' technology investment."

A total of 79 percent of this year's $407,000 budget is for maintenance and regular upgrades to the existing infrastructure, she said.

(Vogel's speech along with all the other speeches, as prepared, are attached to this article, along with a Power Point presentation that accompanied some of the speeches. Speeches may have changed somewhat when they were delivered.)

The 51 computers in the Darien High School library are seven years old and "showing significant wear and tear," Brianna Schneider, a budget representative from the Darien High School Parents Association, told the board.

The library computers are being used by even more students nowadays than in 2005, when enrollment at the high school was about 20 percent less than it is today. She also asked the board not to cut the technology budget.

Furniture was one of the areas that need more money in the elementary schools, two PTO speakers told the board.

"Cafeteria tables are broken and have been repaired so many times that is has become increasingly challenging to keep them operational," according to the speech jointly delivered by Shannon Silsby of the Royle PTO and Tara Ochman of the Ox Ridge PTO."Based on the rating systems used by the district administrators conducting the inventory, we estimate that 50 percent of the chairs in the elementary schools are inadequate, receiving a rating of 1 out of possible 4."

Silsby and Ochman also asked that a proposal to pay salaries to elementary school secretaries through the summer be retained in the budget, along with money to pay stipends to technology coordinators in each elementary school.

Julia Ford, co-chair of the Middle School PTO, asked the board to fund math/literacy coordinators who would cover both Middlesex Middle School and Darien High School, smartboards and other technology in the middle school and $3,000 in new nonfiction books.

According to the district's already-approved three-year plan for smartboards in the schools, Ford said, "in 2013-2014, 25 smart boards are scheduled to be installed in regular education classrooms and 2-3 in special education classrooms.

"These interactive boards, already in use throughout the elementary schools and almost half of the Middle School, are an integral resource and very much imbedded into daily methods of teaching."

Anne Foster, special education representative to the CDSP, told the board that money proposed for smartboards in special education classrooms is "vitally important" to education in those classes, and laptops for special education teachers is also very important.

"The addition of the 10 smartboards will allow for the technology in the special education classrooms to parallel what is in the general classroom—the goal being that students can transfer what they learn from one classroom to the other," she said.

"The 2013-14 school year marks Year 2 of the Special Education Teacher Computer replacement plan," Foster said. "50 new laptops are requested to replace the current outdated desktops, which were acquired by special education 5-6 years ago, and were 'handed down' to the department at that time.

"The new laptops will support the special education teachers’ need for mobility as they push-in to classrooms with our children."

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