Spending stays steady

Region 16 budget proposal carries no increase, costs to towns changing

REGION 16 — Spending in Region 16 is set to stay flat in the 2016-17 fiscal year, but the impact of the budget on the district’s two towns differs drastically.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, presented a roughly $40.53 million budget at a sparsely-attended public hearing March 30. The proposed budget is the same level of spending as the current budget.

“We truly feel this is a good sound budget to put forth for the students and staff in Region 16,” school board Chair Sheryl Feducia.

The school board will finalize the budget at its April 13 meeting to send to a district meeting May 2 for a vote.

While spending remains the same under the proposal, the net education costs for Beacon Falls and Prospect are not staying flat.

Under the proposed budget, Beacon Falls’ net education cost will be about $10.78 million, or roughly $50,000 less than the town currently pays. Prospect’s net education cost will be $17.75 million, or nearly $530,000 more, an increase of about 3 percent.

The discrepancy and changes in the net education costs are 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.

Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini said estimates show the district will lose about $380,000 in state and federal revenues. She added that Beacon Falls’ Education Cost Sharing grant is projected to increase $26,000, while Prospect’s ECS grant is expected to go down $26,000.

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 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.

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, cuts a full-time kindergarten teacher at Laurel Ledge Elementary School due to lower enrollment, cuts a part-time special education teacher and cuts a full-time lunch aide.

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

The budget 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 budget also includes new uniforms for the Woodland cheerleaders and girls soccer team.

“I think we continuously look to be a progressive region by incorporating new courses and new opportunities for our kids,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said.

About 15 people, the majority being school administrators, attended the public hearing last week, and only two people addressed the board.

Beacon Falls resident Paul Cummings expressed concerns about reducing the music teacher position at Woodland to part-time. He said a budget survey showed parents feel strongly about the fine arts and felt reducing the music position limits opportunities for students to take music.

“A flat budget is great if it retains programs, not if programs are cut,” Cummings said.

Yamin said staff decisions at the high school are based on the courses that students request. He said about eight years ago there were enough students signing up for music for two full-time teachers. This school year, he said, the number of students requesting music was only enough for five classes. There are only enough students signed up for two classes next school year, he said.

“We are not cutting courses because we want to save money or we want a flat budget. The students are not requesting music,” said Yamin, who added that students are opting to take other electives.

Patricia Geary, a member of the Prospect Town Council, questioned how a $300,000 cut in the special education budget would affect services, especially since the number of identified special education students has increased.

Yamin said the bulk of the cut in the special education budget stems from changes with special education students that are outplaced. Students that need special services that aren’t available within the district attend out-of-district schools.

Yamin said the cost to outplace a student ranges from $80,000 to $160,000 per student. He said next school year two students who were outplaced will return to district schools. Also, he said, officials renegotiated and reworked transportation for three outplaced students for a savings of $80,000.

School board seeking supplemental appropriation

When the time comes to vote on Region 16’s 2016-17 budget, voters will also be asked to approve a supplemental appropriation.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, is seeking to make a supplemental appropriation of $179,982 from the 2014-15 budget surplus into the board’s capital non-recurring account. 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.

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 Coer Road in Prospect where the former Algonquin School stood. 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.

A district meeting to vote on the 2016-17 budget and appropriation is scheduled for May 2 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. If a referendum is held on the budget or appropriation, or both, it will be May 3.