Budget deliberations begin

Region 16 school chief presents $40.6 million spending plan

REGION 16 — Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin presented a budget proposal last week that would increase spending by less than 1 percent.

“We’re trying to be fiscally responsible and offer a great education,” Yamin told the Board of Education as he presented the spending plan Feb. 10. “That’s what we’re trying to do and I think we’re making gains.”

The 2016-17 budget Yamin presented is nearly $40.6 million. The proposal is an increase of $62,500, or 0.15 percent, over current spending in Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

The second-year school chief is confident the budget will end up with no increase or potentially come in lower than current spending when the final plan is put to a vote.

“I honestly believe by the time we’re done with our numbers we’ll be at zero,” Yamin told the board.

The impact of the proposed budget on taxpayers in Beacon Falls and Prospect wasn’t known last week as officials are awaiting final revenue figures. If the budget comes in flat or under current spending that doesn’t necessarily mean local taxpayers will pay the same or less. If state and other revenue sources come in under current levels, local taxpayers will have to make up the difference.

Spending increased $796,506 in the current budget, but the combined increase for Beacon Falls and Prospect taxpayers was $885,515 due to a decrease in revenue.

The basically-flat budget proposal comes after school spending in the region increased an average of 2.8 percent over the past three years. It also comes on the heels of two significant budget surpluses. The 2013-14 budget finished with a roughly $1.3 million surplus, while the 2014-15 budget ended with a balance of about $1.44 million.

Yamin said some will say since the 2014-15 budget ended with a $1.44 million surplus the budget is actually higher than it should be and should be reduced by that amount. However, he continued, that doesn’t take into account fixed increases and the zero-based budget approach taken when crafting the plan.

Zero-based budgeting means starting from scratch when developing the budget rather than starting with current funding levels and building up.

Yamin also credited the zero-based budget approach to the budget with absorbing increases.

The major increases in the budget total nearly $1.1 million. The largest increase is a 10.5 percent or roughly $458,000 hike in health benefits, though that figure is fluid and could come down, officials said.

The budget also includes increases of $313,137 in salaries, $140,000 for special education, $99,190 in utilities and $87,771 for transportation.

The proposal cuts three full-time positions: a French teacher at Woodland Regional High School along with a kindergarten teacher and lunch aide at Laurel Ledge Elementary School.

Yamin said the reduction of a French teacher at Woodland is due to a dwindling number of students taking French. Instead of having a full-time French teacher, the budget calls for a part-time teacher so students taking French now can still do so.

The reduction of a kindergarten teacher is due to lower enrollment, as well. Yamin said kindergarten classes at Laurel Ledge currently have between 12 to 14 students, which is expected to be lower next school year.

Yamin said last week it was too early to say whether the cuts would result in layoffs or if other positions would open up within the district.

The budget adds in a full-time teacher at Woodland to teach a SAT prep course, a part-time teacher to oversee a proposed talented and gifted program at Long River Middle School, and three part-time library assistants.

The net impact of the staff changes is an additional $7,500 in salaries.

The budget proposal also funds two new Advanced Placement courses (computer science and art history) and three new University of Connecticut Early Education Experience courses (environmental science, music appreciation and English) at Woodland. The plan also sets aside money for ongoing curriculum development and new uniforms for Woodland cheerleaders and the girls soccer team.

A number of requests from administrators didn’t make the cut, including a full-time career coordinator at Woodland and providing Chromebooks to the freshmen class next school year.

Yamin said the requests that didn’t make it in his proposal are likely to be considered in coming years.

The school board will delve into the budget over a series of workshops that started this week. The final budget is scheduled to go to a public hearing on March 30 and to a vote in early May.

School board Chair Sheryl Feducia said last week it was too early to say whether the board will make adjustments to the budget. She said the board directed the administration to come in with a “bottom-line budget.”

“I’m very impressed with this year’s budget,” she said.