Officials disagree on transfer of school funds

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education last week approved transferring $600,000 in excess funds in this year’s budget to pay for services and supplies down the road.

The $600,000 comes from money budgeted for salaries. About $35 million was budgeted for salaries this school year. The excess is mainly due to the board hiring younger teachers whose salaries are lower than the veteran teachers, who retired or left, they replaced, according to officials.

The money will pay for multi-year contracts for software and professional education services and supplies, including about $136,000 for the materials and a six-year license for the literacy program “Words Their Way” and $113,500 for access for four years to the “Measures of Academic Progress” program.

“We are working very hard to make sure students have long-term access to programs they need,” Curriculum Director Caroline Messenger said.

Board of Finance Vice Chairman Andrew Bottinick asked the board not to use the money, but to give it back to the borough when the fiscal year closes.

“I request that you consider the taxpayers of Naugatuck when you make that vote. That $600,000, if not transferred, will go to the general fund and, ultimately, to the reserve fund,” Bottinick said.

Bottinick said the borough has had to use some of its reserve fund in recent budgets.

“It is hovering around $8 million, which is on the low side of what we would like,” Bottinick said. “That $600,000 would be very helpful to be put back into the reserve fund.”

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, who sits on the Board of Education, echoed Bottinick’s concerns.

Hess said municipalities are facing cuts in state aid as the legislature still works to craft a two-year budget for the state.

“With the state of Connecticut we know we are most likely going to get less than we got last year and it may even get a lot worse,” Hess said. “I would argue that overall the town would be better off if the money went back to our reserve account so that we could begin to increase our bond rating. The better the town does the better the Board of Education is going to do because there is clearly a direct relationship.”

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said the purchases are looking to the future by purchasing licenses for programs years in advance.

“These purchases put us in a better position should we get hit later,” said Locke about possible cuts in state aid.

Board of Education Chairman Dorothy Neth-Kunin said she understood the concerns, but felt the best use of the money was to put it back into the district.

“I understand what you are saying, and I appreciate it, but I don’t think we can stop the level of growth in education,” Neth-Kunin said. “We came in at a zero increase budget this year. We came in at a zero budget last year. We are doing our part by coming in at a zero budget. So we are trying to increase our level of education here by purchasing books, technology, and doing all the things we need to do to manage the district and help the kids move forward.”

The board approved the transfer with only Hess voting against it.