School board presents $41.2 million budget

REGION 16 — Although Region 16’s proposed budget for 2017-18 would increase school spending by 1.68 percent, the net education costs for Beacon Falls and Prospect are projected to go up significantly more than that.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, presented a $41,215,282 budget proposal at a lightly-attended public hearing last week. The proposed budget would increase spending by $682,934 over this fiscal year’s budget.

“We are proud of the 1.68 percent [increase],” Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said. “That doesn’t always reflect what the costs are going to be for the towns.”

The net education cost — the education expenses that aren’t covered by other revenues like state aid — is divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect based on the average daily membership ratio of students from each town. For the 2017-18 budget, that ratio is a little more than 61.1 percent Prospect students and nearly 38.9 percent Beacon Falls students. The ratio is roughly 60.8 percent Prospect students and 39.2 percent Beacon Falls students this year.

Under the proposed budget, the net education cost for Prospect is projected to be roughly $19.1 million, an increase of about $1.3 million, or 7.46 percent, from this fiscal year. The net education cost for Beacon Falls is projected to be about $11.3 million, an increase of $427,508, or 3.94 percent.

The projections are based on Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed two-year, $40.6 billion state budget, which would shift state aid to 31 financially struggling towns and cities at the expense of the remaining municipalities. The shift is largely through changes to Education Cost Sharing grant, the largest state subsidy to towns and cities.

Malloy’s proposal would also take special education state funding out of the school budget and give it to the towns in the form of a grant. The difference in the ECS cuts and additional special education funds equates to a net loss of $765,828 for Prospect and $303,220 for Beacon Falls, according to figures provided by school officials.

The legislature is still working through the state budget process. Yamin said it doesn’t look like Malloy’s budget proposals are going to go through, but nothing is definite yet.

“We can only predict what the revenues are going to be, and we can only use what was presented to us at the time that we created this budget,” Yamin said.

The board will finalize the budget proposal to send to a public vote at its April 19 meeting, Yamin said. Typically, the budget proposal is finalized after the public hearing. However, officials want to wait as long as possible to get more information on the state budget and revenues.

Yamin said the board doesn’t build the budget based on revenues, but rather starts at zero and builds the budget based on what is needed for students, staff and the communities.

“We start at zero and then we build our budget on what we need to be successful,” he said.

The district was looking at a $1.9 million, or 4.7 percent, spending increase based on fixed costs, including contractual salary increases and an increase in debt due to paying back the bond for the three-part school building project.

The fixed increases were offset with reductions in other areas, including staff cuts.

The proposed budget would cut the equivalent of 10.6 full-time positions, including the equivalent of 7.6 full-time teachers. Laurel Ledge Elementary School would be hit the hardest with three full-time teachers getting cut.

The spending plan would add a part-time guidance counselor for the elementary schools — there is one that splits time between the two schools now — and a part-time special education secretary.

The staff changes equal a net reduction of $419,917.

Officials said the staff cuts are due to declining student enrollment. According to figures presented last week, there are 2,276 students enrolled this year. That is 188 less students than in 2012-13, and enrollment is projected to continue to decline.

As of last week, Yamin said the staff cuts will result in four full-time teachers, part-time teachers that add up to the equivalent of two full-time positions, and the equivalent of 2.5 full-time non-certified staff members being laid off. He said if there are any retirements or resignations the district will try to keep any staff members that are slated to be laid off.

Prospect Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Jenna Ironson, who was one of three people to address the board during the hearing, is one of the teachers that will be laid off.

Ironson, who was hired in August, grew up in Prospect, went through the Region 16 school system and lives in Prospect.

“Teaching in Region 16 is not just a job for me, it’s my life,” she said.

Ironson said she has 24 students in her class. She asked the board to pursue other options to balance than budget, rather than losing “high-quality teachers” and possibly increasing class sizes.

“What I’m trying to say is that I’m so much more than number, I’m a dedicated employee who will go above and beyond to enhance student learning and only want what’s best for the children,” she said.

Following the meeting, Yamin called Ironson a “tremendous teacher and a superstar.” However, he said, layoffs are determined by seniority under the teachers’ contract.

Following the meeting, school board Chair Sheryl Feducia said the board did its due diligence with the budget proposal.

Feducia said it broke her heart to hear what Ironson said. But, she continued, the budget is built from the “ground up.” She said if enrollment doesn’t substantiate the need for staff, the board is at a point where it needs to cut positions.

“I can’t justify the staff, that’s not fair to the people of both towns,” Feducia said. “We have to have a good, sound, true budget.”

After the board votes to finalize the budget proposal later this month, it is likely to be sent to a district meeting for a paper-ballot vote on May 1 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. If the board sends the budget to a referendum, or if one is forced through a petition, the referendum will be May 2.