BRISTOL — Candidates running for the Board of Education in the Nov. 3 election had the chance to weigh in on the state-imposed Minimum Budget Requirement at a political forum sponsored by the Bristol Federation of Teachers and the Bristol Parent Teacher Organization.

The MBR limits a municipality’s ability to reduce its school budget from the previous year.

David Hayes, BFT president, said the teachers’ union and the PTA together came up with nine questions. Two candidates from each party were randomly chosen to respond to each question and each candidate had two minutes to speak.

Bristol already spends less per pupil than most of the school systems in its District Reference Group, which includes districts of similar enrollment and family income, and other surrounding towns and its education budget has been flat funded for seven of the last 12 years, Hayes said.

“Some candidates have publicly declared that they would not approve increasing the education budget because of the minimum budget requirement,” Hayes said.

When asked what his stance is on MBR and where he sees the budget going for the next two years, Jeff Caggiano, a Republican, said, “I’m not really in favor of the MBR. I think our local decisions should be made locally and these state mandates create issues within our own Board of Education on the finance side,” he said.

Caggiano said the Board of Education has often returned money to the city at the end of the school year, so he wants to bring his business experience to examining the school budget.

In contrast, Chris Wilson, the incumbent Democrat, said he favors the MBR, having served on the legislative MORE (Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies) Commission, which debated the idea at length.

“MBR is a safety net for cities like Bristol,” he said. “If we don’t have MBR the city’s budgets will be balanced on the back of education and that’s just not sustainable.”

If the city doesn’t negotiate market competitive contracts for teachers and other staff, it will have a negative impact on the schools, he said.

The incumbent Republican, Jennifer Dube, said, “The reality is we are all asked to do more with less these days, and we are currently doing better than our DRG in terms of flat funding.”

Even with flat funding, the board has recently managed to add full-day kindergarten, reintroduce middle school interscholastic sports and improve the middle school music program, she said.

Hiring Gary Franzi as permanent district finance director has helped to quantify where the tax dollars are going in the budget, she added. “We need to be good stewards of what we are given and to be as efficient as possible with all of our money.”

Speaking against flat funding, Tina Taylor, Democrat, said hearing people say they would not increase the school budget “scares me” as a parent, a teacher, and a potential board member because money spent on schools is an investment in the city’s future.

Flat funding or reducing the budget may mean taxes go down, but in the long run families will not want to move here and property values will go down, she said.

It’s important to be fair to the taxpayers and not increase taxes needlessly, Taylor said, “but as a Board of Ed commissioner our job is to take care of the children.”

Susan Corica can be reached at 860-584-0501 ext. 1802 or scorica@bristolpress.com.

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