Finance board gets look at school budget

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Finance tentatively approved the Board of Education’s $61.7 million spending plan Monday during a budget workshop.

The proposed 2015-16 school budget doesn’t increase spending.

“This is the most transparent and the most detailed budget I have seen,” Burgess Dorothy Hoff said. “I’d like to thank you and congratulate you. I’d like to say that I am for this budget 100 percent.”

Although there is no overall increase in the budget, salaries are set to go about $1 million, or 3.11 percent, to $35 million. The cost for transportation and tuition is also going up a little more than $92,000, or about 1.7 percent.

Increases in the budget were offset by decreases in other areas.

The capital projects budget is going down $316,263, or 48.8 percent, the cost for supplies and utilities is down $500,520, or 16.9 percent, contracted services is down $173,906, or 5.3 percent, and employee benefits is down $159,533, or 1 percent.

“We are not asking the borough for any more money, but I want to be really clear that this budget also represents a lot of resource reallocation and a lot of creative use of funds so that we can expand services and increase services while being fiscally responsible,” Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said.

A 0 percent increase is the lowest the Naugatuck Board of Education can go with its budget. State law was recently changed that allowed school budgets to come in under the previous year’s spending. But since Naugatuck is an Alliance District, which means it is one of the 30 lowest performing districts on standardized tests, its budget cannot decrease, Locke said.

While he was happy with the flat budget, Burgess Pat Scully voiced concern over what will happen next year. He pointed out that the salaries are expected to rise 3 percent next year and that, even if everything stays the same, the school budget will rise by that amount.

“So, in next year’s budget, we should be expecting a 3 percent increase, unless you come up with some more miracles,” Scully said.

Locke said that the district will reallocate money in the next budget, but does not expect to have a flat budget for a second year in a row.

One of changes in the proposed budget was the elimination of the pay-to-play program, which required students to pay to join sports, band, and certain other clubs. Locke said parents already pay taxes and to buy tickets to games, so the district felt that they should not have to pay if their children want to join a sport.

While he supported the removal of pay-to-play, Finance Board member Ed Fennell questioned what would happen when the district ran into financial difficulties in the future.

“Knowing that next year we probably can’t have a zero [percent increase in the] budget because salaries are going to go up, my concern would be in two or three years from now we will be talking about putting it back,” Fennell said.

Locke said she does not think the school board would put it back in the budget because the program brought in about $30,000, which is a relatively small amount in a $61.7 million budget.

The finance board unanimously voted to tentatively approve the school budget. The board will continue reviewing spending requests over a series of upcoming workshops. The final budget is slated to be presented for approval to the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance Board on April 25.

Following Monday’s workshop, Finance Board Chairwoman Diane Scinto spoke highly of the proposed school budget.

“It’s a tremendous budget. They’ve done a lot. There have been increases, but they were able to offset them with other fiscal moves. It’s phenomenal,” Scinto said.

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