School officials decry move to flat fund budget

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education’s budget may remain flat once again in the coming fiscal year.

The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses last week approved a $121.4 million budget proposal for the 2018-19 fiscal year that includes no increase for the Board of Education, leaving the school budget at about $61.68 million.

The school board presented a budget request that would have increased school spending by $482,567, or 0.8 percent. The joint boards initially reduced the requested increase to $316,349, which would have brought the Board of Education’s budget to an even $62 million, before voting last week to flat fund the school budget in a decision that was not unanimous.

If the budget ultimately gets adopted, it will be the fourth year in a row that the Board of Education budget has had no increase.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said she’s disappointed that the joint boards chose not to move forward with the school board’s request.

“The Board of Education has consistently demonstrated fiscal responsibility while continuing to improve our school system. We have not asked for an increase in three years, so it is difficult to understand the borough’s decision,” Locke said.

Some members of the joint boards argued last week that the school board isn’t transparent about its budget and took issues with surpluses in the school budget.

“They were not upfront with us for three straight years,” said Board of Finance member Andrew Bottinick during last week’s meeting. “They have not done a good job of estimating their budget surpluses.”

Bottinick pointed to the fact that the Board of Education had a surplus last year and was able to use about $600,000 of unspent money to purchase text books. He also took issue with $30,000 in the proposed budget to start a lacrosse program at Naugatuck High School, arguing the board should not have requested money for a one-time expense.

“What they are supposed to do is what they have done for the last three years. They found the money,” Bottinick said.

Board of Education Chair Dorothy Neth-Kunin said the board’s purpose is to put forth a high-quality educational system that benefits all students.

“I am extremely disappointed that the Board of Finance put aside growth and development of our educational system by reducing the Board of Education request,” Neth-Kunin said.

Neth-Kunin disagreed that the Board of Education has not been transparent.

“In the past five years, the Board of Education has been extremely transparent and forthcoming in outlining all expenses that are student and school-centered. The Board of Education has consistently been able to improve the school system with no increases in the past three budget cycles,” Neth-Kunin said.

Both Neth-Kunin and Locke said it was premature to say if any cuts would have to be made and, if so, what might be cut from the budget in order to keep it flat.

However, Locke said there will be an impact on the district.

“Finding the additional $482,567 — the equivalence of about five to seven teacher positions — will be difficult. This reduction will certainly impact our programs and services,” Locke said.

Neth-Kunin said she hopes the joint boards will put the money back into the budget since education has a long-lasting effect.

“Money that is spent on education today is an investment in a better economy for the borough in the future,” Neth-Kunin said.

The budget proposal will go to a public hearing on May 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Board of Education office, 497 Rubber Ave. The joint boards will then meet May 17 to review and adopt the budget.