School budget heads to district meeting

REGION 16 — The fate of Region 16’s proposed spending plan now rests in the voters’ hands.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, last week approved a $40.9 million budget proposal for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The proposal increases spending by $404,934, or 1 percent, over this year’s school budget.

“It is a comprehensive concrete budget that services the needs of all the students and staff in Region 16, and I can only support this budget 110 percent,” school board Chair Sheryl Feducia said.

The board also approved sending the budget to a vote at a district meeting on May 1 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. The district meeting starts at 7 p.m., and voting will be done by paper ballot. The budget could be forced to a referendum, if residents petition to do so. As of Friday morning, no petitions had been taken out, according to officials in both towns. If a referendum is forced, the vote would be on May 2.

While overall school spending is going up 1 percent, the towns’ net education costs will go up more than that, under the proposal.

The net education cost — the share of the education expenses that aren’t covered by other revenues like state aid and are paid through local taxes — is divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect based on the average daily membership ratio of students. For the 2017-18 budget, that ratio is a little more than 61.1 percent Prospect students and nearly 38.9 percent Beacon Falls students.

Under the proposed budget, the net education cost for Prospect is projected to be about $18.9 million, an increase of nearly $1.15 million or 6.45 percent. The net education cost for Beacon Falls is projected to be about $11.15 million, an increase of $313,383 or 2.89 percent.

The projections are based on Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed two-year, $40.6 billion state budget, which would shift state aid to 31 financially struggling towns and cities at the expense of the remaining municipalities. The shift is largely through changes to Education Cost Sharing grant, the largest state subsidy to towns and cities.

Malloy’s proposal would also take special education state funding out of the school budget and give it to the towns in the form of a grant. The difference in the ECS cuts and additional special education funds equates to a net loss of $765,828 for Prospect and $303,220 for Beacon Falls, according to figures provided by school officials.

School officials don’t believe all of the proposals in Malloy’s budget plan will make it through the legislature. However, the figures in Malloy’s budget are the only ones they have to work with as the legislature continues deliberating over the state budget.

The driving factors in Region 16’s spending uptick includes increases of about $250,000 for healthcare and about $240,000 for debt payments, the latter stems from the district starting to pay back the bond for the recent three-part school building project. Transportation and utility costs are slated to go up $97,000 and $93,460, respectfully, as well.

Overall salaries will go down about $130,000 due to staff changes this school year and staff cuts proposed for 2017-18, according to Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini.

The proposed budget would cut the equivalent of 10.6 full-time positions, including the equivalent of 7.6 full-time teachers. It would add a part-time guidance counselor for the elementary schools and a part-time special education secretary. The staff changes equal a net reduction of $419,917.

Officials have said the staff cuts are due to declining student enrollment. According to figures presented this month, there are 2,276 students enrolled this year. That is 188 less students than in 2012-13, and enrollment is projected to continue to decline.

The staff cuts will result in four full-time teachers, part-time teachers that add up to the equivalent of two full-time positions, and the equivalent of 2.5 full-time non-certified staff members being laid off. The people laid off could be brought back to fill vacant positions due to retirements or resignations.

It’s possible the board adds another kindergarten teacher, depending on enrollment, and a certified math teacher for a proposed math lab to help improve math scores after the budget is adopted. Board members last week questioned how the positions would impact the budget and where the funds were come from for them.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said the money would come from other areas within the budget, and the board could realize savings if older teachers end up retiring or resigning.

“We’re at a great place with a 1 percent [increase]. If we need to add, as we did in previous years, we’ll do that in June,” he told the board.

As far as programs are concerned, the budget would add an after-school world language enrichment program at the elementary level and an after-school STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program for elementary and middle school students. A new reading program for kindergarten, first and second grades would also be added.

The budget would also pay for the continued implementation of the one-to-one device initiative, which will provide Chromebooks for all students in grades six through 12 over three years, and new uniforms for several athletic teams at Woodland Regional High School.

Over the years, Feducia said, she has voted against the budget because it wasn’t a “bottom-line” budget. She urged voters to come out Monday and support the spending plan.

“This is a bottom-line best budget, and there’s nowhere else to go,” she said.