Wearing Red to Support Foreign Language Program

To promote foreign language study for its elementary school students in Darien, Connecticut, supporters are asking parents to wear red to demonstrate their commitment to the cause.

Story by Jake Kara for Darien Times, February 2, 2011:

Will red clothes be this year’s “SOS?”

We’ll find out as Darienites get a chance to speak publicly about the school budget at a hearing that was postponed by snow from Tuesday to 7 p.m. Thursday in the Darien High School auditorium.

Last year, many Darienites showed up wearing “SOS” stickers made by Parent Teacher Organizations that called for Darienites to “Support Our Students” and attend the hearing.

 

This year, parents pushing for the introduction of an elementary foreign language program want you to wear red in support of the cause.

The $320,000 program, which calls for hiring five new teachers, was one of few new programs in Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen Falcone’s proposed $77.2-million 2011-12 budget, which represented an 8% increase from the current budget.

Falcone has repeatedly characterized his budget as a no-frills budget, based on maintaining, not enhancing the district.

While Falcone, whose children go to New Canaan Public Schools, which has an elementary foreign language program, didn’t place the foreign language program on his list of potential cuts last Tuesday, Board of Ed Chairman Kim Westcott did.

Parents from the Council of Darien School Parents are prepared to speak out in defense of the budget from proposed cuts, according to a prepared statement and slide show Laurie Orem and Tammy Sload, co-chairmen of the council, provided The Darien Times.

They will highlight examples of the district’s responsible budgeting by highlighting areas where schools have saved money and comparing Darien to towns of similar socio-economic status.

Council members will also outline deferrals made by the district in past years and programs Darien doesn’t offer that other districts do.

The hearing is a forum for Darienites to share their opinions and spending and program desires with the Board of Ed, which must eventually adopt a budget proposal. The board has been reviewing the next budget for nearly a month.

The budget season kicked off with Falcone’s presentation of his proposed budget as a blizzard loomed and attendees periodically filed in and out of the meeting to check for snow accumulation.

By the end of that meeting the storm season had geared up in more ways than one.

The following week, Liz Mao, Board of Finance chairman, spoke at a Board of Ed meeting and said an earlier 6% estimated increase was “unacceptable.”

Based on that figure, Mao warned of a possible 7.2% tax increase if budgets weren’t curtailed.

While all six members of the finance board stressed the importance of trimming down the budget, few had specific suggestions.

Murry Stegelman, Finance Board member and it previous chairman, made the only specific suggestion for saving money by opening up contracts and chipping away at the proposed $55.3-million in personnel costs.

Mao declined to give a set figure the finance board would approve, “because you guys won’t come in a penny under” that number.

The Representative Town Meeting Finance & Budget Committee reiterated the finance board’s points the following week.

Increasing pressure on school officials was the town’s proposed 6% increase.

Aside from laying down some ground rules, Westcott said, she and the board are there to listen.

The public hearing usually draws a big crowd. Last year it was held at the Town Hall auditorium and the standing-room-only crowd overflowed to the balcony. Thursday night it is at the high school.

 

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