Voters reject Region 16 budget proposal

BEACON FALLS — Region 16’s 2018-19 proposed budget failed at a district meeting Monday night as Beacon Falls voters overwhelmingly rejected the school spending plan.

Voters rejected the $40,731,402 budget by 43 votes, 161 to 118. The proposal would have decreased spending by $205,880, or 0.5 percent, over the current budget for the region, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect.

“I’m disappointed that the budget failed,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said. “We presented a budget that provided the highest quality of education with a tremendous amount of resources and opportunities for all students while being fiscally responsible.”

Beacon Falls voters, who outnumbered Prospect voters nearly three to one at the district meeting, soundly voted down the budget, 155 to 55. Prospect voters approved of the budget, 63 to 6.

Despite overall spending going down under the proposal, the plan would have increased the net education costs for the towns, with a much higher increase for Beacon Falls.

The net education cost is the share of the school budget paid for with local taxes collected in Beacon Falls and Prospect. Under the proposal rejected, Beacon Falls’ net cost was projected to go up $243,839, or 2.17 percent. Prospect’s net cost was projected to increase $981 under the proposal. The figures changed from the budget proposal presented at a public hearing in April due to a shift in revenues.

The discrepancy in the impact on the towns’ net education costs is due to cuts in the state Education Cost Sharing grant, which Yamin said hit Beacon Falls harder than Prospect, and a slight shift in the student population.

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 more of the net cost onto Beacon Falls.

Yamin questioned the reason for Monday’s turnout, saying the board and administration clearly identified the allocation of resources as well as the resources required to provide an education to our students. He said the board did what it could fiscally and cut spending to the minimum budget requirement for the region.

State law used to prohibit school budgets from being cut at all. Recently, the state changed the law to allow for school budgets to be cut under certain conditions, like a decline in enrollment, cuts to the ECS grant, or if a school is closed. Alliance Districts, the lowest performing school districts, still can’t cut their budgets. Region 16 falls into the categories of declining enrollment and ECS cuts, which are fluctuating numbers at the moment.

If districts cut their budgets beyond the minimum budget requirement they could face penalties from the state.

In a subsequent interview on Tuesday afternoon, Yamin said he reviewed the issue with the state and the district’s legal counsel. He said the budget can’t go any lower and may have to go up to meet the state law.

The Board of Education will discuss how to move forward at its meeting Wednesday. On Monday, officials said it’s likely the next vote on a budget proposal will by referendum.

“The Board of Ed worked very hard to put together a sound budget and maintain outstanding programs for our students,” school board Chair Robert Hiscox said. “I don’t believe the people took the time to come to our budget workshops to see what was going on or offer input if they felt we were moving in the wrong direction. We can’t cut the budget any further. I’m just hoping if it goes to a referendum we’ll have greater input.”