School budget presentation will have to wait

NAUGATUCK — After some debate, the Board of Education rejected two budget proposals and won’t present its request to finance officials for at least another month.

The school board was scheduled to present its 2018-19 budget request to the Board of Finance on Monday night. The school board met prior to the meeting with the finance board with the intention of approving a budget to present.

However, that didn’t happen.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke proposed a $62.9 million spending plan to the school board. The proposal would have raised school spending by $1.22 million, or 1.97 percent, over the current budget.

The majority of board members panned this proposal as too high and relying on unclear numbers from the state. The board voted it down, 5-2, with one abstention. Board member Ethel Grant was absent.

“When you have a mill rate as high as we do there is only so much we can do. If we continue to raise taxes, it actually hurts our students because their parents are working two jobs to pay the taxes and they are not helping their kids with homework. While it’s our job to educate students in schools, it is also our job to recognize what the impact of the cost of that education is on our residents,” Board of Education member Glenn Connan said.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, who has a seat on the school board and abstained from the vote, said the board is slated to receive an additional $500,000 in grants from the state.

However, as the state’s legislative session has just started, it is unclear how much, if any, of that money will actually materialize, Hess said.

Hess also raised concerns about large ticket items in the budget, including salaries and capital projects.

The school budget includes 2.5 contractual salary increases and some proposed new positions.

Hess argued the salary line item was larger than it needed to be, even with the wage increases.

Hess added there may be specific capital items school officials want that will be taken care of in the five-year capital plan set forth by the borough.

Hess said his ultimate goal is to reduce the mill rate.

“I want to have the best education budget we can and also reduce the mill rate. I don’t see why we can’t do both,” Hess said.

After voting down the $62.9 million plan, Connan proposed keeping the budget flat in order to begin a discussion on it with the Board of Finance.

If the board approved a flat budget, Locke said, that would be what it is requesting and can’t come back at a later date to request an increase.

Connan’s proposal was voted down, 4-3, with Hess abstaining again.

The school board is expected to hold workshops and approve a budget to submit to the Board of Finance in the coming weeks. Both boards decided to meet again on April 2 for the budget presentation.

In years past, the school budget was typically one of the last, if not the last, proposal to be presented to the Board of Finance since it relied heavily on state grants. Recently, the schedule for the school budget presentation has been moved up.

Board of Finance Chairman Dan Sheridan said the school board has a range to work within, given the $62.9 million that was rejected and the fact its budget can’t be reduced because Naugatuck is an Alliance District.

“You guys came up with a number you thought you could live with. So that’s the maximum. That’s the range that you have,” Sheridan said.

The school budget has been flat the past two budgets. If the borough chooses not to increase school spending, Board of Education Chair Dorothy Neth-Kunin said the board would have to make do with what it has.

“We would go back to each school and see what the school and kids could live without,” Neth-Kunin said.