School budget, appropriation pass

REGION 16 — The Region 16 Board of Education went 2-for-2 at a district meeting Monday night.

Voters in the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved the $40.53 million 2016-17 budget and a $179,982 supplemental appropriation.

“We had a good strong budget,” board Chair Sheryl Feducia said. “We did our due diligence to keep it within the fiscal constraints we have in both towns.”

The budget was approved 73 to 19, and passed in both towns. Beacon Falls voters approved the budget 25 to 13. The margin was larger among Prospect voters, who approved the spending plan 48 to 6.

The $40.53 million budget keeps spending at its current level. The towns’ net education costs — the amount paid from local taxes — are roughly $10.83 million for Beacon Falls and about $17.78 million for Prospect, under the budget.

Beacon Falls’ net cost is basically staying the same; it is a decrease of $8. Prospect’s cost is increasing $556,800.

The discrepancy in 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 towns’ net costs could change when the state, which is dealing with a nearly $1 billion projected budget deficit for the coming fiscal year, finalizes its budget. Any additional cuts to state education funding or restoration of funds would impact the towns’ net costs.

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).

While the budget keeps spending flat, Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said the budget increases staffing, resources and services for all students.

“I think this budget tonight is reflective of the fact that we are very concerned, serious and focused about the four goals for the Board of Education, which are our culture, our communication, our academic standards and being fiscally responsible,” he said.

Not everyone agreed.

Prospect resident Kim Yannon, who was the only member of the public to speak prior to voting being opened, expressed concerns over the direction of the arts and music program in the region.

The budget cuts a full-time music teaching position at Woodland Regional High School to part-time due to less students signing up for music courses.

Yannon, who has taught music for three decades in public schools and served as president of the Connecticut Music Educators Association, felt the staffing level isn’t appropriate. She felt by not offering more music classes, even for a few students, the district is cutting off pathways to success in the arts.

“As a music educator for 31 years, I cannot support a budget that does not offer these opportunities for kids, even for two or three or four,” she said.

Aside from the music position, the budget also reduces a full-time French 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 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, three part-time library assistants and a part-time certified reading teacher designed to aid special education students.

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

The $179,982 supplemental appropriation was approved 77 to 15. The vote in Beacon Falls was 50 to 4. Prospect voters approved it 27 to 11.

The money will be transferred from the roughly $1.44 million 2014-15 school budget surplus to the board’s capital non-recurring account, which can only be used for one-time capital expenses.

Of the $179,982, $150,000 will be used to mill and repave the parking lot for the new district office. The new office is the final part of a three-part building project. 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 annually into a capital non-recurring account.

“It’s an awesome way to make sure in the future we don’t have to keep going back to the towns for capital improvements,” Feducia said.