Spending plan, appropriation set for vote

REGION 16 — Beacon Falls and Prospect voters will decide the fate of Region 16’s proposed $40.53 million budget at a district meeting Monday night.

The district meeting is at Woodland Regional High School, 135 Back Rimmon Road, Beacon Falls, and begins at 7 p.m.

Aside from the budget, voters will also be asked to approve a supplemental appropriation of $179,982 from the 2014-15 school budget surplus into the board’s capital non-recurring account. The budget and appropriation will be voted on separately and by paper ballot.

The $40.53 million budget for the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, keeps spending at its current level.

Region 16 Board of Education Chair Sheryl Feducia said the board always comes through with a “bottom-line budget,” and this year is no different.

“If I don’t feel it’s a bottom-line budget I don’t vote for it because that’s what we have to put forth,” she said.

As of last week, the towns’ net education costs — the amount paid from local taxes — were estimated at roughly $10.83 million for Beacon Falls and about $17.78 million for Prospect, according to Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini.

Beacon Falls’ cost would stay basically the same, the estimate is a decrease of $8. Prospect’s cost is increasing $556,800.

The discrepancy in the impact on the towns’ net education costs is due to a combination of factors, including a shift in student population and projected decreases in state and federal revenues.

The net education cost is divided between the two towns based on the student population ratio. The ratio of Prospect students has increased from about 60.2 percent to about 60.8 percent, which in turn means the ratio of Beacon Falls student decreased to about 39.2 percent. This shifts more of the tax burden onto Prospect taxpayers.

The estimates take into account Gov. Dan Malloy’s most recent state budget recommendation. Malloy’s proposal includes cuts in the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant — the main state grant for education funding — of $168,218 and $255,624 to Beacon Falls and Prospect, respectively.

Region 16 officials offset some of that projected revenue loss by increasing the “carryover” in the proposed school budget from $400,000 to $700,000. The Region 16 Board of Education has traditionally tried to “carry over” funds from each fiscal year that are revenue for the towns to pay for their school expenses.

Mangini said most of the $300,000 increase to the carryover comes from unanticipated one-time revenue, including a Medicaid payment and tuition from two out-of-district students whose families paid for the students to attend Region 16 schools.

The major budget drivers in the spending plan are increases in wages ($413,480), health benefits ($473,673), transportation ($89,871) and utilities ($99,190).

The budget includes some staff changes.

The spending plan adds a part-time teacher to oversee a new talented and gifted program at Long River Middle School, a full-time certified reading teacher at Prospect Elementary School, a full-time math instructional aide at Woodland Regional High School, three part-time library assistants and a part-time certified reading teacher designed to aid special education students.

The budget proposal reduces a full-time French teacher and a full-time music teacher at Woodland to part-time. The plan cuts a full-time kindergarten teacher at Laurel Ledge Elementary School due to lower enrollment, a part-time special education teacher and a full-time lunch aide.

The net staff changes equate to an additional $30,472 in salary.

The budget also adds two new Advanced Placement courses (computer science and art history) and three new University of Connecticut education experience courses (environmental science, music appreciation and English) at Woodland.

The board is seeking the supplemental appropriation of $179,982 to make facility improvements.

Of the $179,982 sought for the transfer, $150,000 is planned to be used to mill and repave the parking lot for the new district office. The new office, which is the final part of a three-part building project, is on the site where Algonquin School once stood on Coer Road in Prospect. The work on the parking lot isn’t included in the building project’s budget.

The remaining $29,982 will be used for one-time repairs at Woodland and Laurel Ledge, including a partition for the coaches’ room at Woodland as well as replacing ceiling and floor tiles at Laurel Ledge.

State law allows the board to transfer up to 1 percent of its budget into a capital non-recurring account, which can only be used for one-time capital expenses. The appropriation will come from the 2014-15 budget surplus. The $39.7 million 2014-15 budget finished with an unreserved year-end balance of roughly $1.44 million.

Voters approved two such transfers, totaling $629,073, the past two years. The majority of these funds are set aside for roof repairs at Woodland Regional High School.

Feducia said the board sets aside the funds when they are available so it doesn’t have to go back to the towns for money when work is needed.

“We’re being fiscally responsible with the funds,” she said.