Region 16 board finalizes budget proposal

Reg16REGION 16 — The Region 16 Board of Education put the finishing touches on its proposed 2013-14 budget Tuesday night.

The board approved a roughly $38.8 million budget, 3-2, during a special meeting at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Board members Donna Cullen, William Fredericks and Robert Hiscox were not present.

The proposed budget for the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, is an increase of about $1.52 million or 4.1 percent. The proposal increases the net education cost for Beacon Falls $558,031, or 5.93 percent, to $9.96 million. Prospect’s net education cost increases $933,072, or 6.07 percent, to $16.3 million.

The budget will now go to a district meeting on May 6 at Long River Middle School in Prospect at 7 p.m. for a paper ballot vote.

The budget was approved Tuesday following some final reductions to the spending plan totaling $31,500.

The board was able to reduce the increase by $11,500 because it will use leftover money in the current budget to buy text books budgeted for next year. Also, the board reduced a high school theater teacher from a full-time position to a .8 position realizing a savings of $14,000. The final $6,000 was reduced after the board shifted the cost of a clerk for the school building project to the project’s budget, rather than the board’s budget.

When it came time to vote on the proposal, not everyone felt enough cuts had been made.

“I feel we need to make harder cuts,” said board Chair Priscilla Cretella, who voted against the spending plan with board member Sheryl Feducia.

The board debated cutting half a kindergarten teaching position, half a math teaching position at the high school and putting off $85,000 in repairs to the boiler at Algonquin School in Prospect. Ultimately, none of the changes were made.

Board member Nazih Noujaim felt putting off the boiler repairs was a bad idea because it would probably be more expensive if it dies during the next winter.

Some members felt the half positions discussed as potential cuts were crucial to the students and cutting them would not be wise overall.

Cretella favored cutting the half teaching positions.

“These aren’t favorable cuts, but it’s hard times,” Cretella said.

The proposed budget increase is driven by fixed costs. Tuition for students who attend magnet schools and special education students who are out-placed to schools for services the district can’t provide is set to increase $656,640. Three additional out-placed special education students moved into the district this school year, according to a budget overview.

Staff wages are going up $217,872. Wages for certified teachers are increasing by 2.99 percent and non-certified position will get a 2.5 percent increase next school year under contractual agreements. Wages for both groups were kept flat this school year and according to officials the increase in wages is offset by proposed staff changes.

Health insurance and debt service costs are set to increase $306,802 and $266,607 respectively. The remaining significant increases came in electricity costs, $132,689, and bus transportation, $74,534.

In order to reach the proposed budget, the board has cut a number of positions.

Five intervention specialists — four at the elementary schools and one at Long River Middle School — have been cut. A middle school teaching position has been cut and it is expected to be made through attrition.

The board also cut a third-grade teaching position at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls due to decreased enrollment. The third-grade teacher is retiring and the position won’t be filled. The board had also decided to not fill a full-time position in special education and reduced a half position in art and a half position in consumer science both at Woodland. Two cafeteria aide positions have also been eliminated. The cut in cafeteria aides will result in layoffs.

A public hearing on the budget was held last week during which Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield and Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith urged the board to make further cuts to a budget that stood at a little more than $39 million heading into the hearing.

The decision to send the budget to a paper ballot vote instead of a referendum was also made at the April 10 meeting. A referendum on the budget can still be forced if residents petition to do so.

Luke Marshall contributed to this article.

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