Naugatuck BOE requests $57.9 million budget

Spending up 2.6 percent

From left, Board of Education candidate Dorothy Neth-Kunin, Mayor Robert Mezzo, and Board of Finance Member Diane Scinto discuss the Board of Education Budget Monday night.

From left, Board of Education candidate Dorothy Neth-Kunin, Mayor Robert Mezzo, and Board of Finance Member Diane Scinto discuss the Board of Education Budget Monday night.

NAUGATUCK – The school board is hoping for a 2.6 percent bump in its budget next fiscal year.

The Board of Education presented a $57.9 million budget, an increase of $1.44 million, to the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses April 25 for next school year.

The biggest budget increase comes from the payroll accounts, which went up $936,000 or 2.8 percent.

The board requested funding for four new certified teaching positions—a third grade teacher for Central Avenue School, a City Hill Middle School language arts teacher, a high school math teacher and a high school physical education and health teacher. The new positions would help the school system meet new state mandated secondary education reforms.

The school board also requested two part-time security personnel for City Hill Middle School. The board was originally looking at 8.3 new positions, including additions to elementary art and music programs, but cut half of those out to keep the budget as low as possible, according to Wayne McAllister, Business Manager for the Board of Education and borough controller.

Other significant payroll increases include an extra $66,000 for administrative, $26,000 for substitutes and interns, $29,000 for teacher aids, $66,000 for secretarial, $20,000 for computer personnel, $25,000 for non-certified staff overtime.

On top of the extra positions, teachers are due for a contractual 4.1 percent raise this year. The school board saved some of the federal grant money they received as part of the stimulus package to help pay for the increase, according to school board Secretary David Heller. However, that grant money will not be available to help pay teachers’ salaries for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The pay increase and new positions nudged the line item for teachers up $831,000 over this year.

Another grant that helped pay for social workers this year will be gone next fiscal year, leaving a $209,000 gap in that line item, school officials said.

On top of pay increases, the cost for benefits is going up. The board added $380,000 for health benefits next year, an increase of 3.7 percent.

Professional services also went up $20,000 to help pay for the search for a new superintendent and contract negotiations with AFSME and the teacher’s union. Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson will be leaving the district in June 2012.

With many of Naugatuck’s school buildings aging, they need a lot more maintenance and repair. The board requested doubling the budget for capital outlay for facilities, a $100,000 increase.

An extra $59,000 in the proposed budget will go into the lease payments accounts to help pay for information technology upgrades, among other investments.

The district is expecting the cost of gas and oil to go up next year and added $117,000 for gas and $72,000 for student transportation. The line item for oil went up $38,000.

School officials are also seeking more money for supplies with the biggest increase for textbooks at another $82,000 and $37,000 in other instructional supplies.

Over the years, the cost of education has gone up in Naugatuck even as student enrollment declined. Over the past 10 years, the district lost 1,000 students, but the cost to educate each student went up over 71 percent. The decline in enrollment will bottom out in 2015, according to a study cited by Tindall-Gibson. There are currently 2,500 students in the system.

The boards discussed the possibility of consolidating certain “back office” services that are used by both the town and schools, such as human resources, payroll and maintenance in order to reduce costs.

“My thoughts are it’s an area that we need to go in—creative solutions to reducing duplicity and freeing up some more dollars. But I do think that careful thought’s going to be required as to what those services are, how they’re consolidated, what that means in terms of personnel,” said Mayor Bob Mezzo, who sits on both the Board of Education and Board of Mayor and Burgesses.

Mezzo said historically, there has been resistance to the concept from Board of Education members who want to remain autonomous from the town.

He pointed out that the Board of Education and town already work together in several areas, including the school board’s temporary business manager, McAllister. The two entities also share the same health care broker and provider.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that the Board of Education and the town are completely separate. The fact of the matter is that’s not true,” McAllister said.

Finance board member Diance Scinto suggested that the Board of Education look at where they could combine services for the 2012-2013 budget.

The school board was the last department to present their request to the joint boards. Their request, along with a 4.1 percent or $1.94 million increase on the municipal side, means the borough budget would increase 3.3 percent if no changes are made.

Board of Finance member Dan Sheridan said the board left a lot of “nice-to-haves” in the first go-around of the budget. At the next session, he said, they have to take a long look at some of those items and eliminate some programs that the town can’t afford until revenues go up.

Mezzo said the budget is a work in progress and there will be more painful cuts before the budget is finalized. The fundamental question, he said, is how much the town can afford to spend. They’ll have to pick from multiple bad choices to come up with a number taxpayers can stomach, he said.

Burgess Patrick Scully pointed out that there are still a lot of unknowns in the budget on the revenue side.

“You don’t know until it’s over,” he said.

The Finance Board will take another look at the numbers May 9, with another meeting of the Joint Boards scheduled for May 16.

Officials hope to hold a public hearing on the budget May 23 to move to adopt it May 26.