Educators propose 1.84% budget hike

With an eye toward further cuts in state aid, school administrators proposed a 2018-19 budget with only a 1.84% hike from last year.

Interim Superintendent of Schools John Battista, alongside interim Assistant Superintendent Jack Zamary, who will officially take over the administration’s top spot July 1, presented the $56,281,117 budget — an increase of $1,016,220 from the 2017-18 adopted budget — to the Board of Education Monday night.

“We are very pleased with the number,” said Board of Education Chair Donna Lane. “The board are all very much committed to bringing fiscally low budgets to the voters. We are very pleased with where we are.”

The Board of Education will hold two additional budget workshops — one this coming Monday at 6:30 p.m. and another Monday, Dec. 18, at 7:30, during the board’s regular meeting, both at the Masuk High School library — before holding its final vote on the education budget at its Tuesday, Jan. 2, meeting.

The proposed budget factors in receiving $5,662,469 from the state’s Education Cost Sharing grant and another $825,571 in additional state grants and $968,586 in SPED Excess Cost money. These numbers were approved in the recently signed two-year state budget, but Lane said the board questions if the town will end up receiving all that has been promised.

“(The budget number) will be a moving target over the next couple of months because there are areas, like special ed, health insurance, state grants, that are not solid numbers as of yet,” said Lane. “We know adjustments may have to be made. It’s not unheard of that the 1.84% could change.”

The two largest budget jumps come in salaries ($35,523,163, a 2.45% jump) and benefits ($9,733,676, a 4.11% hike), while significant reductions are anticipated in special education instruction, with a 10.10% reduction from last year, and transportation, a 2.35% reduction from last year. There will also be an anticipated $45,061 cut in the Honeywell lease payment.

Battista said the reductions in special education and transportation result from more children in the program returning to the district for services.

The proposed budget includes eliminating 3.5 full-time staffers and 1.5 non-certified staffers, all due to a decline in enrollment; a $400,000 increase in the school district’s medical and dental insurance budget; adding a one-ton plow truck ($55,000) in the operating budget; and reinstating two of the three K-5 coordinators as well as three elementary technology paraeducators.

Among the risks to meeting the proposed 2018-19 budget numbers, according to administrators, are unanticipated special education costs, unfunded mandates from the state, unanticipated maintenance costs, and medical and prescription costs, which can fluctuate greatly over the course of a year.

But the major uncertainty is state grant money. Among the cuts school officials made because of the governor’s cuts to the 2017-18 budget — which were not reinstated in this past fiscal year — were dropping one central office administrator, three K-5 subject area coordinators, two nurses, one high school teacher, and curriculum writing courses.

“There is not a lot of wiggle room with this budget, except people,” said Battista, adding that more than 80% of the proposed budget number is salary and benefits, which is already set in stone, and transportation, where one bus has already been cut. “We always try to keep any cuts as far away from the students as we can.”

Lane said the boards of finance and education have a “great relationship,” and any possible reductions in the future would always be done with the best interests of the students in mind.

In all, Battista said, the proposed budget includes some $300,000 for reinstating several items removed as part of the $1-million reduction in the 2017-18 fiscal year budget.

Battista said that two of the three K-5 coordinators would be reinstated, with the third spot being taken by a current teacher who will add this responsibility to her role.

“These coordinators helped with continuity,” said Battista, adding that the individuals remain schooled in the latest state education standards and make sure teachers are properly trained.

“This is so important to the board,” added Lane about reinstating the K-5 coordinators.

The proposed budget also brings back three elementary technology paraeducators, lost in last fiscal year’s reduction. These individuals aid in making sure teachers and students are best utilizing technology in the education process, said Battista.

Also reinstated in the proposed budget are the district’s teacher training initiatives, focusing on the Columbia Writing Project, inquiry learning, Connecticut Core Standards, and Next Generation science standards — all done during the summer months, said Battista, so teachers remain on top of the latest educational advances before the opening of the next school year.

The administration also included $20,000 for a social worker, said Battista, because educators feel that with many of the challenges facing today’s youth, this type of service is needed.

“We believe that this needs to be available to the students,” said the interim superintendent. “But we know we have to be fiscally conservative, so we put in the minimum to meet this need.”

Other business

The Board of Education’s leadership remained the same, with Lane re-elected chair, George King III vice chair and Shannon Monaco secretary.

 

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  • Ghris

    we have no more money

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