Petitions force referendum vote

Special appropriation to be decided at district meeting

REGION 16 — A petition effort has forced the proposed 2014-15 Region 16 school budget to a referendum vote. The same can’t be said for the vote on a special appropriation.

The proposed $39.7 million spending plan for the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, will be decided at a referendum Tuesday. Voting will take place from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Laurel Ledge School, 30 Highland Ave., Beacon Falls, and the Prospect firehouse, 26 New Haven Road, Prospect.

The proposed budget represents an increase of $1,247,618 or 3.24 percent over current spending in the district. The school expense 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 Board of Education originally voted to send the budget to a paper ballot vote Monday night at a district meeting. However, petitions were handed in last week to the town clerk’s offices in Beacon Falls and Prospect with more than the 200 necessary valid signatures to force the referendum.

There will still be one question to decide at Monday’s district meeting though — a special appropriation of $244,191 of surplus funds into a new capital non-recurring account.

The special appropriation and the budget were both sent to paper ballot votes by the board to be voted on as separate questions. The petitions handed in only referenced the budget question.

School officials already published a legal notice announcing the district meeting with both questions. The petitions supersede the legal notice. But, since the question on the appropriation was not on the petitions, it can not be moved to a referendum vote because there is insufficient time to notify the public prior to Monday’s meeting.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Gail Gilmore said the district reviewed the matter with its legal counsel and has to follow proper protocol.

“We have to follow the statute and make sure that we’re following proper procedure and protocol,” Gilmore said.

The district meeting will be held at Woodland Regional High School, 135 Back Rimmon Road, Beacon Falls. It will begin at 7 p.m. Voting on the special appropriation will be done through paper ballots. There is no set end time for voting. In previous years, officials have given some time after the last vote is cast before closing voting.

The $244,191 eyed for the capital account would come from surplus funds from the 2012-13 fiscal year. An audit of the 2012-13 budget showed the district finished the fiscal year with an unreserved year-end balance of $744,191. 

Out of the $744,191 balance from the 2012-13 budget, the $500,000 projected to be returned to the towns will be given back and used to pay for education expenses this year.

State statute allows regional school districts to create a capital non-recurring account, which can only be used to pay for one-time capital expenses. The $244,191 is planned to be used to pay for repairs to the roof over the art wing at Woodland.

School board Chair Donna Cullen urged voters take the time to come out and vote on both questions and hopes they’ll allow the board to move forward with the budget and appropriation.

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