Region 16 school chief presents flat budget proposal

PROSPECT — Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin’s 2019-20 school budget proposal would keep spending flat, but the same can’t be said for the net education costs for Beacon Falls and Prospect.

Yamin presented a roughly $40.73 million draft budget last week to the Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees public schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The proposal keeps overall school spending at the same level as this fiscal year but includes new staff positions and expenditures throughout the district.

The proposal includes eight new instructional aides — one for each of the first grade classes in the region. Kindergarten is the only grade that has instructional aides now.

“We have them in our kindergartens. We’d like to see them go into our first grades. As we’re talking about really building the fundamentals for kids, we think it’s really challenging for elementary school teachers to work with all kids at the level at different times,” Yamin said.

The proposal also includes new nurse’s aide positions at Long River Middle School and Woodland Regional High School, makes a secretary position at Woodland a full-year position, and adds 20 additional days to the Woodland athletic director job to handle any issues that need to be addressed over the summer break.

Three positions — a secretary, a part-time nurse’s aide and a part-time armed security guard — would be eliminated under the proposal.

This school year is the first one the region has had armed security at the schools. Yamin said the position he’s proposing to cut is a floating position between the schools. He said the district has coverage for each school and doesn’t need the floating position.

School board Chair Robert Hiscox raised a concern with eliminating the position, saying he would like to discuss it further as budget deliberations continue.

“I’m a fan of greater security, that’s all,” he said.

The net salary impact from the proposed staff changes is an increase of $143,344. Overall, salaries, which make up 55 percent of school spending, are estimated to increase about $500,000 to roughly $21.5 million, according to Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini.

The budget proposal also includes about $15,000 for musical instructional, instructional supplies and furniture for the fine arts departments at Woodland and Long River, $30,000 for a new phone system at Long River, $15,000 for curriculum writing, and funds for various other items, like teacher training and new uniforms for some sports teams.

The budget would also eliminate the fee charged to Woodland students to park at the high school. Officials said the fee brings in about $7,500 a year in revenue.

The increases are offset by decreases in other areas, namely an estimated $390,000 reduction in the cost of medical insurance and a $300,000 decrease in the district’s debt payments, Mangini said.

The numbers are still very fluid. The estimated reduction in medical insurance is based on whether teachers in the district stay with their current provider or switch to the state’s health care plan. If they switch, Mangini said, the estimated decrease would be $220,000. That could lead to slight increase in overall school spending under Yamin’s proposal.

Yamin said teachers are scheduled to vote on the matter on March 13.

Another significant unknown is the state budget.

While spending stays flat under Yamin’s proposal, Prospect’s net education cost is projected to increase about $560,000, or 3 percent, while Beacon Falls’ net cost is estimated to decrease about $158,000, or 1.4 percent.

The figures are based on estimated state education funding in Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed two-year state budget. According to Mangini, Lamont’s proposal would cut the Education Cost Sharing grant for Prospect by about $300,000 while Beacon Falls’ grant would be cut about $125,000.

The state budget proposal is likely to change many times before the legislature adopts it, and it likely won’t be adopted before local school officials send their budget to a vote in May.

“These are only drafts, we will not have these figures, unfortunately, before we vote on the budget,” Yamin said.

Also, the disparity in the projected impact to the net education costs is due to a shift in student population. The net cost, which is the share of the school budget funded by local taxes, is divided between the two towns based on the ratio of students as of Oct. 1. The percentage of Prospect students in the district increased slightly to 61.78 percent, while the percentage of students from Beacon Falls decreased to 38.22 percent.

The budget proposal comes a year after the region decreased school spending. The 2018-19 school budget cut spending by $205,880. Officials said the district doesn’t have much, if any, room to cut spending again because of the state’s minimum budget requirement, which allows school spending to be cut only under specific circumstances, like the closing of a school or a significant drop in enrollment.

Overall, Hiscox said he’s pleased with the proposal.

“I think it’s a good budget. I think it’s responsive to the district. I think it’s responsive to the needs of the taxpayers,” he said.

The school board will continue budget discussions at workshop on March 6. The board is scheduled to hold a hearing on its proposal on April 10.