Voters OK Region 16 budget

REGION 16 — Voters on Monday approved Region 16’s $40.9 million school budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year by 76 votes.

The budget for the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, increases spending by $404,934, or 1 percent, over this year’s school budget.

After the results were announced at a district meeting at Long River Middle School in Prospect, Board of Education Chair Sheryl Feducia said she was relieved and happy the budget passed.

“We put together a great budget this year. I’m very proud of it,” she said.

The budget passed with 128 people voting for it and 52 people voting against it. About 1.6 percent of the total voters in both towns cast their ballot at the meeting.

Prospect and Beacon Falls voters came down on different sides of the budget.

Prospect voters overwhelmingly approved the budget with 99 “yes” votes to 20 “no” votes. Beacon Falls voters narrowly rejected it with 29 “yes” votes to 32 “no” votes.

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 fiscal year, that ratio is a little more than 61.1 percent Prospect students and nearly 38.9 percent Beacon Falls students.

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

These net figures are based on revenue projections in 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.

Under Malloy’s plan, Prospect and Beacon Falls would both see their state aid cut. However, the state legislature is still working on its budget, and the final figures for revenue aren’t known.

“I don’t know where that’s going to play out, so there’s still a lot of unknowns,” said Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin as he addressed the public at the meeting.

School officials don’t believe all of the proposals in Malloy’s budget plan will make it through the legislature. However, they are the only figures they had to work with when crafting the spending plan as the state continues dealing with budget issues.

Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini said she is “cautiously optimistic” the net costs in the budget are the worst-case scenario.

If the state provides more education aid to the towns than is budgeted, the towns’ net education costs would decrease. However, if the towns set their mill rates before the state legislature approves a budget, it’s likely any additional revenue wouldn’t impact the mill rates.

The driving factors in the region’s spending uptick include 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 three-part school building project.

Overall salaries will go down about $130,000 due to staff changes this school year and staff cuts planned for 2017-18. The cuts are due to declining enrollment, officials have said.

The budget cuts 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 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 positions vacated due to retirements or resignations.

The budget adds an after-school world language enrichment program at the elementary level, an after-school STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program for elementary and middle school students, and a new reading program for kindergarten, first and second grades.

The budget also pays 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.