Budget proposal keeps school spending flat

REGION 16 — Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin’s 2018-19 spending plan looks a lot like Region 16’s current budget as far as the total figure is concerned.

Yamin last week presented a roughly $40.9 million budget proposal to the Board of Education. The proposal keeps spending in the region, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect, at the same level of this fiscal year.

“We did increase our staff. I think we’re providing services across the board — pre-K through 12 — and I think it’s a reasonable budget,” Yamin said.

The proposal adds four part-time armed security guards for schools, a full-time elementary science teacher, a full-time math interventionist, two full-time instructional aides for kindergarten, a full-time cafeteria aide and a part-time guidance counselor.

A part-time French teacher position was eliminated and the full-time assistant director of special education positon was reduced from full-time to part-time in the budget proposal.

The net increase of the staff changes is about $211,000, Yamin said.

Despite overall spending staying flat in the proposal, the district is facing increases in salaries, health insurance, utility costs and transportation totaling a little more than $1.3 million, which would have increased spending by over 3 percent alone.

Salaries and health insurance, which make up 69.4 percent of the region’s spending, are projected to increase nearly $1.2 million.

The school board has come under criticism from town officials in Beacon Falls for the size of recent budget surpluses. The board ended the 2016-17 fiscal year with a year-end balance of just over $1 million. Out of the roughly $1 million surplus, $700,000 was budgeted as revenue in the current school budget to help offset school expenses for Beacon Falls and Prospect.

Town officials argued the school budget should be cut due to the surpluses.

Yamin said the board has $1.3 million in increases built in the budget for 2018-19 and he’s proud to keep spending flat.

“I think it really speaks to our ability to really fiscally mange our budget well the last couple years,” Yamin said.

School officials offset the increase with reductions in other areas, with the largest reductions coming in the district’s debt payment and workers’ compensation and liability insurance.

Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini said the district recently received a $500,000 reimbursement payment from the state for the recent three-part school building project.

The payment, which can only be used to pay off debt, is one of the final reimbursement payments the district will get for the project, Mangini said. She said the money was used to reduce the total debt payment made in the 2018-19 fiscal year from about $3.8 million to roughly $3.3 million.

Also, Mangini said, the district is saving about $150,000 in the cost of workers’ compensation and liability insurance after switching insurance carriers last June. The switch was made after the current budget was adopted, she said.

Though spending is projected to be flat and contractual costs are rising, student enrollment in the district continues to trend downward. Enrollment dropped 13.4 percent over the last eight years to 2,177 students as of Oct. 1, 2017. The number of special education students, however, has gone up 11.7 percent over that same time.

Overall enrollment is projected to drop to 2,150 students in 2018-19.

The budget proposal also includes continuing to roll out the district’s 1-1 device initiative. Through a mix of new and used Chromebooks all students in grades six through 12 will have a Chromebook next school year to use in class.

Officials are also looking to buy new uniforms for the Woodland Regional High School dance, replace some uniforms and a few helmets for the Woodland football team, and upgrade the lighting for the stage in Woodland’s auditorium.

The school board will review the budget over the coming weeks before adopting a plan to send to a public hearing set for April 11 at Long River Middle School. A district meeting to vote on the budget is scheduled for May 7 at Woodland. If the budget is sent or forced to a referendum for a vote, the referendum will be May 8.

Yamin said it’s possible that spending overall could be reduced by the time the budget is finalized. He said the district is projecting an 18.5 percent increase in health insurance, though they are waiting for the final figures, which could come in lower.

“This is a moving active budget,” he said.

School board Chair Robert Hiscox said the budget is well thought out as officials continue to look at how resources are used and funds are allocated. He said the administration did an outstanding job of presenting a budget that taxpayers should readily accept at a 0 percent increase.