Democrats said yea, Republicans no, to a $3,695,000 bond for a laundry list of town and school needs, including portable classrooms for Overbrook School's all-day kindergarten. Last Thursday's Town Council vote replaced an earlier approved borrowing measure of $3,225,000. A $470,000 hike
The culprit for the increase is the cost of the temporary classrooms, which went from $430,000 to $899,000. Originally, the school administration asked for four classrooms. Now it wants eight. The eight would nearly double the number classrooms at the cramped elementary school, which currently has 10.
According to Assistant Superintendent Erica Forte, who attended the Council meeting, two of the rooms would serve the new all-day kindergarten, and one each for pre-K, a reading specialist, pathologist, psychologist and math and ESL coaches. The building has boys and girls bathrooms.
"It makes sense to spend a little bit extra and get the eight classrooms," said Superintendent Anthony Serio. "I hope the Council can find it to appropriate this extra funding."
Ralph Mauro, assistant director of administration and public affairs for the town, explained the cost went up due to the difference between the initial estimate from the state to a latter one by an architect hired by the school district.
The portable building would be purchased from Newtown, said Serio. It is six years old and is going for $200,000, he said. (It cost $900,000 new.) With moving and setup costs, the total project comes to $899,000.
But Mauro said an anticipated 75 percent reimbursement from then state would drive down the town cost to $270,000.
Republican Councilman Richard Anania asked if the 75 percent was guaranteed.
"That's my understanding," said town Finance Director Tom Thompson.
Anania said he was concerned since Gov. Dan Malloy announced last week that municipal aid could be reduced since the state labor unions turned down his concession package, which would have helped to plug the state deficit. Now an estimated 7,500 layoffs of state workers and a possible cut in town aid is on the table.
But school finance director Jason Lathrop told Anania he felt "very confident" about the reimbursement from Hartford.
Anania then argued that the money should come from the school's capital budget, not the town's.
Democratic Councilman Vincent Camera praised the portable classroom deal. "You can't buy a house for $200,000. I'm very happy with that. I think it's a steal," he said.
His Republican peer Paul Carbo asked, "Why can't we wait to see if that [state] grant comes in? Why do we have to do this tonight?"
Mauro said the dollar amount had to be presented to the state in order to calculate the percentage of reimbursement. "It's been done like this for 30 years," said Mauro. "You have to show them a plan. And then they approve it." He added that historically, East Haven has always gotten the state dough.
Furthermore, attorney Michael Albis, who was pitch-hitting for town attorney Patricia Cofrancesco at last Thursday's meeting, said the measure was to only authorize not actually carry out the borrowing. If state reimbursement is lower, the money might not be sought.
"The bottom line is the kids need this for all-day classrooms. They will be utilized," said Democratic Councilman Gary DePalma.
The remainder of the $3.7 million bond is for school capital improvements; vehicles and equipment for Public Services and police; town-wide building projects; masonry repairs at Hagaman Memorial Library; road and sidewalk repairs; drainage projects; a new truck and physical plant upgrades for fire; and insurance costs.
Forte said so far 200 children have been enrolled in the all-day kindergarten, which debuts this September.