The Branford Board of Education faced both good and bad news in its first meeting since a added an additional $100,000 in cuts to its already beleaguered budget. A plan to bring a popular technological innovation to students was granted with cautious optimism, but some members voiced doubts about the future of pre-kindergarten classes in the district.
"I'm disappointed, I have to publicly state," said Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez. "I had hoped we'd be able to do all the innovations. I really felt as if they were sustainable."
He was referring to innovations that would have paved the way for a multi-year rollout of pre-kindergarten services across Branford. Only one school, , currently offers pre-kindergarten classes. The board has considered introducing classes at this fall, but Chairman Frank Carrano said he was uncomfortable moving ahead without a definite plan for expansion.
"I've been mulling this over," said Carrano. "I don't know how we can justify singling out one group of students for a benefit all the other students don't have by virtue of a decision we've made at the board ... It's important that we can stand before the community and say 'we don't have the resources, so we can't do it.'"
Carrano and the board are bracing for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.
"If we can't fund an additional program, I don't think we can justify maintaining a program at all," he said.
But Hernandez is still optimistic.
"Pre-k is still very much in the mix," he said.
He said there are other areas where damage can be mitigated, including tuition for special education. World languages classes for elementary school students are still on the table. And despite the reduced budget, the school will move ahead with a one-to-one plan, an initiative aimed at putting at least one computing device - such as an iPad or Kindle - in the hands of every high school and middle school student in Branford.
"This is not shared, this is not borrowed or put back on the shelf -- this is a device you have on you 24-7, 365 days," Chief Technology Officer Clint Kennedy told the board. Kennedy will spearhead the program, which has gained popularity in many states.
Board members expressed a desire to proceed cautiously, citing budgetary concerns. Hernandez said the school will reach out to outside parties for partnership, and he expected annual updates as the initiative progresses.