School budget proposal decreases spending

REGION 16 — After some final adjustments, the Region 16 Board of Education last week approved a budget proposal that would cut school spending slightly.

The roughly $40.86 million spending plan is $80,200, or nearly 0.2 percent, less than the current budget for the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

The budget proposal will now go to a public hearing on April 11 at 7 p.m. at Long River Middle School in Prospect.

Just because spending is going down doesn’t necessarily mean the towns’ net education costs — the share of the education expenses that aren’t covered by other revenues, like state aid, and are paid through local taxes — will decrease. If revenues decrease, the towns’ net costs could go up to make up the difference, depending on how much revenues go down.

The net education cost 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. A change in the ratio could also sway the costs one way or the other for the towns.

The estimated net education costs — based on current revenue projections from the state — weren’t available as of press time. They will be available for the public hearing.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin originally presented a budget proposal that kept spending flat. Last week, he presented a plan to the board that would have cut spending by about $122,000, or 0.3 percent.

The reductions from the original proposal include $35,000 in paraprofessional salaries that will be covered by grant funding and $40,000 in healthcare because the renewal cost is expected to come in less than originally planned, Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini said.

Mangini said the administration also reduced an estimated increase in the cost of electricity by $45,000. The projected increase factored a spike in electricity due to air conditioning being installed at Woodland Regional High School. Mangini said the increase was reduced after consulting with the architect on the air conditioning project to get a better idea of how much the cost will go up.

The Board of Education opted to put more money into the budget to support a proposal to hire armed guards for schools.

Yamin’s plan was to hire four part-time armed guards to cover Prospect Elementary School and Long River.

There are three full-time, unarmed security guards currently working at Woodland. One of the guards would be allowed to carry a gun under state law, and Yamin wanted to reallocate one of the other full-time positions to Laurel Ledge Elementary School to be the armed guard for the school.

Board members, though, wanted to keep the three full-time guards at Woodland and hire another full-time guard or the equivalent to cover Laurel Ledge.

The board’s approval of the budget plan wasn’t unanimous. Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella and board member Erik Dey voted against it.

Cretella contended the budget could stay at a 0.3 percent decrease and the money for another guard position could come from other areas in the plan.

Dey, who is opposed to armed guards in the schools, voted against the budget because it contains money for the armed guards.

The budget proposal cuts spending even though fixed increases in salaries, health insurance, utility costs and transportation total a little more than $1.3 million.

Salaries and health insurance, which make nearly 70 percent of the region’s spending, are projected to increase about $1.2 million.

School officials offset the increase with reductions in other areas. The largest reductions of $500,000 and $150,000 came in the district’s debt payment and workers’ compensation and liability insurance, respectively.

Aside from the armed guards, the proposal includes a number of other new positions.

The proposal adds 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.

The budget proposal eliminates a part-time French teacher position and reduces the assistant director of special education position from a 12-month position to a 10-month one.

A district meeting to vote on the budget is scheduled for May 7 at Woodland. The method of voting will be set after the public hearing. If the budget is sent or forced to a referendum for a vote, the referendum will be May 8.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the assistant director of special education position was reduced from full-time to part-time. The position was reduced from a 12-month position to a 10-month positon.