Budget heading to hearing

REGION 16 — The Board of Education has backed a proposed $39.7 million budget for the 2014-15 school year that will now go to a public hearing.

The board unanimously approved the spending plan at its March 26 meeting.

“A lot of work and energy went into developing the budget we approved tonight,” Board Chair Donna Cullen said following the meeting.

The proposed 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.

The budget is divided among the two towns 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 $41,771 difference between the total net increase to the towns and the proposed increase in the budget is due to adjustments in revenues.

A public hearing on the budget will be held April 8 at 7 p.m. at Long River Middle School in Prospect. The budget will have to be approved by the voters. Following the hearing, the board will decide whether to send the budget to a vote at a district meeting or a referendum.

The proposed budget was voted on last week after adding in $13,100 for the Rachel’s Challenge program, $5,000 for a new stove and refrigerator or freezer for the culinary program at Woodland Regional High School and 3 percent raises for the director of finance and business operations, director of facilities and maintenance and the superintendent’s executive secretary totaling $7,680.

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 special education increase is due mostly to new students who need outplacement services, according to Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini.

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, Mangini said.

Some accounts went down from current spending levels.

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, Mangini said.

The board issued a request for proposals for health care and Anthem, which is the district’s current provider, came back with a bid that is about 6 percent less than the district currently pays. The district hadn’t issued an RFP for health care in some time, according to officials.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James credited the RFP process with creating a competitive environment for the benefit of the district.

Overall, James described the budget as a responsive one that allows for new programs.

“I think it’s a responsive budget, and I certainly hope the taxpayers support it,” James said.