Fate of Region 16 budget rests with voters

REGION 16 — Voters will decide the fate of Region 16’s 2018-19 proposed school budget next week.

The $40,731,402 budget proposal decreases spending by $205,880, or 0.5 percent, over the current budget for the region, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect.

“I think it’s a fantastic budget for everyone,” said Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin, adding the proposal increases staffing and programs while reducing spending.

Yamin said the region provides a premium service to students while being fiscally responsible, pointing to a minimal increase in school spending over the past four years.

The 2018-19 budget proposal represents a $199,054 increase in spending from the region’s 2015-16 budget — a nearly 0.5 percent spending increase over the four-year span.

A district meeting to vote on the budget proposal is set for Monday at 7 p.m. at Woodland Regional High School. The vote will be by paper ballot at the meeting. No petitions were started to try and force a referendum on the budget.

The net education costs — the share of the education expenses paid through local taxes — are projected to go up for Beacon Falls and Prospect. Based on revenue projections, Beacon Falls’ net cost will go up $243,839, or 2.17 percent, under the budget proposal. Prospect’s net cost is projected to increase $981.

Officials previously said a loss of revenue, including state aid, is the main reason for the net costs going up despite the overall spending decrease. There has also been a slight shift in the percentage of students from Beacon Falls and Prospect.

The net education cost is divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect based on the average daily membership ratio of students. The percentage of Beacon Falls students increased to 38.94 percent from 38.875, while Prospect’s percentage reflected an equal reduction. The shift put a little more of the net cost onto Beacon Falls.

The budget proposal adds several new positions, including armed guards for each of the region’s four schools.

The spending plan includes about $101,000 for four part-time and one full-time armed security guard positions. The positions are on top of three full-time unarmed security guard positions in place at Woodland and would allow for an armed guard for each school during each school day.

State law passed after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012 requires armed personnel on school grounds to be either police officers that retired in good standing or active police officers. School officials plan to work with the Prospect and Beacon Falls police departments to hire the guards and develop a policy for them.

The budget proposal also 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.

The spending plan continues to invest in curriculum revision and will expand the district’s one-to-one initiative to all students in grades sixth through 12.

The one-to-one initiative provides Chromebooks to students to use for school. Middle school students return the Chromebooks at the end of the school year. Freshmen receive a new Chromebook that they keep through high school and after graduation.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported figures for the net education costs to Beacon Falls and Prospect that were presented at an April public hearing. The figures subsequently changed due to a shift in revenues. The story has been updated to reflect the change.