Board sends budget to vote

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James presents the proposed 2014-15 budget during a public hearing April 8 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. –LUKE MARSHALL

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James presents the proposed 2014-15 budget during a public hearing April 8 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. –LUKE MARSHALL

PROSPECT — The Region 16 Board of Education sent its proposed 2014-15 budget to a paper ballot vote following a public hearing Tuesday night.

The proposed $39.7 million budget represents an increase of $1,247,618 or 3.24 percent over current spending in the district, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James said the board works hard to craft a budget that is both financially responsible and meets students’ needs.

“The Board of Education takes seriously its obligation to the taxpayers to present a spending plan that represents a high level of educational excellence that the district has traditionally provided, while keeping in mind the financial constraints of the communities served by the school district,” James told the roughly 12 people who turned out for the hearing at Long River Middle School.

Only two people addressed the board during the hearing.

Sherida Cocchiola of Prospect questioned the board’s reasoning for spending $13,000 on Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying program.

Christy Tottenham of Beacon Falls spoke in favor of the budget. She thanked the board for all its hard work in crafting what she feels is a fiscally responsible budget.

“It’s clearly been a daunting task over the past few months to pare down the budget from its initial increase to what you are presenting today. I appreciate the board’s commitment to the safety, well-being and growth of our students in Region 16,” Tottenham said.

The board also read a letter from Beacon Falls Board of Finance member Brian Ploss. Ploss voiced concerns in the letter that the money spent by the board was not translating into a proper education and the students were not succeeding after they left Region 16 schools.

After the public had its chance to speak, the board voted to send the budget to a vote at a town meeting. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on May 5 at Woodland Regional High School, 135 Back Rimmon Road, Beacon Falls. Those who attend will cast their vote by paper ballot.

The budget is divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect based on a ratio of the average daily membership of students. Currently, the ratio is roughly 60 percent Prospect and about 40 percent Beacon Falls

The net education expense for Beacon Falls under the plan is $10,450,312, an increase of $660,466 or 6.7 percent. The net education cost for Prospect is $16,721,945, an increase of $628,923 or 3.9 percent.

The largest increases in the budget are about $500,000 in certified staff wages, $268,000 in debt service, $134,000 for bus transportation and $390,000 in special education.

The budget also includes a handful of new positions — two cafeteria aides at Laurel Ledge Elementary School, a .2 world language teacher and a .5 culinary arts teacher at Woodland. The budget also replaces a preschool special education teacher. The position was taken out of the current budget last year, but needs to be put back in due to higher enrollments.

James said the board was also able to find significant savings in energy and health care costs.

The budget includes about $55,000 less for gas and fuel oil due to the district locking into a better rate. Also, the board’s health care renewal fee represents a significant savings.

The board will pay about $300,000 less for health care.

Board of Education Chair Donna Cullen said the budget represented a lot of hard work.

“The board worked long and hard to develop this budget. We feel pretty confident with what it presents and we’re going to go forward and see what happens from there,” Cullen said.