Health care, wages driving increase

 Naugatuck Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini, left, discusses the Board of Education’s 2014-15 budget proposal with the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses April 7 at Naugatuck High School as Assistant Business Manager Bernice Rizk, right, looks over the budget information. –LUKE MARSHALL


Naugatuck Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini, left, discusses the Board of Education’s 2014-15 budget proposal with the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses April 7 at Naugatuck High School as Assistant Business Manager Bernice Rizk, right, looks over the budget information. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses got their first look at how the 2014-15 school budget is shaping up April 7.

School Business Manager Robert Butler, who is also controller for the borough, presented the first draft of the budget during a workshop at Naugatuck High School.

The proposed budget stands at $63.1 million, which is an increase of $3.65 million or 6.14 percent over the current year’s budget.

Board of Education Chairman David Heller said the board is not pleased with the current numbers.

“We understand that a 6 percent increase for the Board of Education side is too high, and we’re looking at every way we can bring that down,” Heller said.

The increase is being driven by the cost of health insurance as well as teachers’ contractual wage increases.

Health care costs for the board are estimated to rise to $2.72 million, or 22.72 percent.

However, that number is not yet set in stone, Mayor Robert Mezzo said.

Mezzo said there are still a lot of variables in play in regards to the health insurance. Health care costs are rising on the municipal side of the budget as well, and the borough is currently shopping around for a new health care provider.

The budget includes $533,928 more for contractual wage increases and an additional $320,000 on security upgrades. The board is also facing an increase of $148, 617 in insurance costs as well.

“The real wild card for us is workers’ compensation,” Butler said.

If the school board sticks with its current insurance provider, Aetna, Inc., nearly all the insurance costs are expected to remain about the same, Butler said. The exception is workers’ compensation, which is set to increase by 25 percent to $750,000.

“They bill us estimated on what they think we’re going to put claims in at,” Butler said.

Butler said last year the district’s compensation claims came in at 107 percent of the estimate.

“Every year they up it and every year we seem to exceed it because of major claims,” Butler said.

Butler said the board has quotes from ConnectiCare as well as Aetna. ConnectiCare is currently the low bid, but the board is still reviewing it, he said.

“We’re trying to get them to look at our actual claims for the year to date right now. We’re hoping to get some new quotes from them,” Butler said.

Heller said the board has been working diligently to find areas it can cut and reduce expenses.

The administrator line item was reduced by $116,668 due to the elimination of the director of instruction position. The position was vacant and is likely not to be filled while the change to Common Core standards takes place, according to Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini.

Board of Finance member Dan Sheridan expressed concerns that the trend in student population does not correlate to the increase in the budget. He pointed out that in the 2011-12 school year the budget was approximately $57 million. The borough has since seen a decrease in enrollment of about 300 students, yet the proposed budget is up $6 million, he said.

Heller said the decrease in students is spread across the entire district, which makes it difficult to reduce costs to match the population decline.

“If we could get those 200 or so students to leave at 100 from the middle school and 100 from the high school, we could reduce staff much easier and much better. Unfortunately you get a student leaving in this classroom, that classroom and another classroom,” Heller said.

Heller said the board looks at the class sizes at the beginning of the year, during the year, and at the end of the year to see if it needs to either reduce or increase the number of staff in a certain school.

One option the board is looking into is offering early an early retirement package and reducing positions through attrition, Heller said.

Montini said the board has been trying to put together a reasonable budget.

“This budget you see is a reduction of eight [full time employees],” Montini said. “We’re not asking for any new positions. We’re asking to fix some doors for security purposes. We’re asking for increases for insurances and contracts. We decreased in areas we knew we could.”

The school board is scheduled to give its final budget presentation on April 28.

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