Board sends budget to vote

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Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James presents the proposed 2014-15 budget during a public hearing April 8 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. –LUKE MARSHALL
Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James presents the proposed 2014-15 budget during a public hearing April 8 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. –LUKE MARSHALL

PROSPECT — The Region 16 Board of Education sent its proposed 2014-15 budget to a paper ballot vote following a public hearing Tuesday night.

The proposed $39.7 million budget represents an increase of $1,247,618 or 3.24 percent over current spending in the district, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James said the board works hard to craft a budget that is both financially responsible and meets students’ needs.

“The Board of Education takes seriously its obligation to the taxpayers to present a spending plan that represents a high level of educational excellence that the district has traditionally provided, while keeping in mind the financial constraints of the communities served by the school district,” James told the roughly 12 people who turned out for the hearing at Long River Middle School.

Only two people addressed the board during the hearing.

Sherida Cocchiola of Prospect questioned the board’s reasoning for spending $13,000 on Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying program.

Christy Tottenham of Beacon Falls spoke in favor of the budget. She thanked the board for all its hard work in crafting what she feels is a fiscally responsible budget.

“It’s clearly been a daunting task over the past few months to pare down the budget from its initial increase to what you are presenting today. I appreciate the board’s commitment to the safety, well-being and growth of our students in Region 16,” Tottenham said.

The board also read a letter from Beacon Falls Board of Finance member Brian Ploss. Ploss voiced concerns in the letter that the money spent by the board was not translating into a proper education and the students were not succeeding after they left Region 16 schools.

After the public had its chance to speak, the board voted to send the budget to a vote at a town meeting. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on May 5 at Woodland Regional High School, 135 Back Rimmon Road, Beacon Falls. Those who attend will cast their vote by paper ballot.

The budget is divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect based on a ratio of the average daily membership of students. Currently, the ratio is roughly 60 percent Prospect and about 40 percent Beacon Falls

The net education expense for Beacon Falls under the plan is $10,450,312, an increase of $660,466 or 6.7 percent. The net education cost for Prospect is $16,721,945, an increase of $628,923 or 3.9 percent.

The largest increases in the budget are about $500,000 in certified staff wages, $268,000 in debt service, $134,000 for bus transportation and $390,000 in special education.

The budget also includes a handful of new positions — two cafeteria aides at Laurel Ledge Elementary School, a .2 world language teacher and a .5 culinary arts teacher at Woodland. The budget also replaces a preschool special education teacher. The position was taken out of the current budget last year, but needs to be put back in due to higher enrollments.

James said the board was also able to find significant savings in energy and health care costs.

The budget includes about $55,000 less for gas and fuel oil due to the district locking into a better rate. Also, the board’s health care renewal fee represents a significant savings.

The board will pay about $300,000 less for health care.

Board of Education Chair Donna Cullen said the budget represented a lot of hard work.

“The board worked long and hard to develop this budget. We feel pretty confident with what it presents and we’re going to go forward and see what happens from there,” Cullen said.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Here are some interesting numbers from the Region 16 Year End June 30, 2013 financial audit….

    Fund Balance, Beginning of year was $620,821 which they expected use $500k of that in last years budget but was actually $329,363 under in their spending saving $829,363.

    Fund Balance, End of Year was $950,184 ($829,363 over expected surplus of $120,821). So if those numbers are correct, what is the actual increase in the budget?? Is it $420k (using the $830k overage allowing them the same fund balance of $120k surplus as last year) OR is it actually $2.1M (factoring the same $830k and $120k figures) OR is it they are planning on keeping the surplus to roll into next years budget?? Did they offer anything back to the towns??

    When are the residents going to hold the Region responsible for not supplying the answers to the various questions that many of us have demanded over the last several years?? What do we have to do – say “pretty please with sugar on it”??

  2. No surprise that the BOE would decide to go to a meeting vs. referendum. Never been clear why there is not a mandatory machine vote over a certain amount. $40 million certainly gets your attention and might dictate giving the taxpayers all day to vote instead of five minutes on a night that is not convenient for them.

    Do not forget to vote today on the security tax increase. Add this onto the budget and we are getting hit extremely hard this year by the school system. Looking like a NO VOTE for me.

  3. I mean who in their right mind would want a per ballet vote on a 39.7 Million (1.25M / 3.24%) increase? What is wrong with the public blindly allowing this to happen?? It is my understanding that their was an approx $700k surplus – was there any mention about that?? If there indeed was a surplus then the increase is actually $2 Million.

    Understand that this next statement is my own opinion and in no way am speaking for the BOF, BUT if this is allowed without any complaints by the Beacon Falls residents, then they have no right to bitch about the town budget.

  4. Thanks CN. I don’t understand why they are so afraid of responding to the facts. Given that Beacon Fall’s increase is almost 7%, I guess I will have to go even further requesting an independent review of the BOE and Superintendent probably starting with an editorial.

  5. Big Suprise.

    I haven’t heard any comments for either Mayor Bob or First Selectman Bielik.
    Do they support such spending and tax increases?

  6. After reading the post I am absolutely sick as a resident of Beacon Falls and having kids in Region 16. While I understand that the above article could not have the contents of my letter posted, just saying I had concerns with no facts posted wasn’t enough. So below is my letter pasted citing facts that the BOE is not doing their job.

    CN – Did they answer any of the questions I posed in my letter as I aasked or just ignore them like they have had over the last several years when similar facts have been posed??

    4/8/14
    Good Evening.

    My name is Brian Ploss and I am a resident of Beacon Falls and a Board of Finance member speaking on behalf of myself – a resident and tax payer of Beacon Falls. Due to surgery that am still recovering from, I am submitting the second of my two replies to the Citizen’s News Article entitled ”School Chief Proposes $40.2M Budget.” While the actual amount was reduced to $39.7 Million, my points of fact are still just as pertinent and I request answers to each of my questions posed in this letter.

    As a follow-up to my posting yesterday strongly suggesting that the BOE look at moving towards a new Region design, I am posting this to discuss some of the things that I have been literally chased out of BOE meetings by irate parents not able to accept that there may be an alternate side to what we are being told by the BOE.

    As stated in my prior post, others including myself have seen reports in papers and on various sites indicating that the money we are spending is not translating into an education process that allows children to succeed going forward after leaving the Region. One such site (http://www.schooldigger.com/go/CT/schoolrank.aspx) cites numbers of state rankings that while show improvements in some areas, show very questionable issues / holes in what the BOE is selling the parents. Boiled down here are some of the numbers.

    CT Elementary School Rankings 3rd & 4th Grades Combined CMT Mathematics & CMT Reading 2012-2013

    Laurel Ledge ranks 299 out of 514. Rank change from 2012 = down 43
    The other elementary schools in our Region do not even show a ranking because their math and reading scores were not current.

    CT Middle School Rankings 7th & 8th Grades Combined CMT Mathematics & CMT Reading 2012-2013
    Long River Middle ranks 95 out of 266. Rank change from 2012 = up 6

    CT High School Rankings 10th Grade CAPT Mathematics & CAPT Reading Across the Disciplines 2012-2013
    Woodland Ranks 77 out of 194. Rank change from 2012 = up 19
    Region 16 as a whole ranks 91 out of 164 districts

    Given that we hear nothing but great things from the BOE, I find these numbers are just disturbing. How are these numbers great?? So the BOE’s next argument will be spend more equals better results. But they have been increasing the budget every year, is there actual tangible benefits as many of us have asked the BOE for years and been (quite honestly) rudely chased out of meetings for??

    From a February 23, 2014 article from the Windsor Patch – 16 CT School Districts with Lowest Per Pupil Spending
    (from most to least)
    16 Shelton – ranked 59 0f 164 districts
    15 Meriden – ranked 146 of 164 districts
    14 Hebron – ranked 50 of 164 districts
    13 Tolland – ranked 30 of 164 districts
    12 New Milford
    11 East Hartford – ranked 151 of 164 districts
    10 West Haven – ranked 142 of 164 districts
    9 RHAM
    8 Danbury – ranked 134 of 164 districts
    7 Woodstock – ranked 82 of 164 districts
    6 New Britain – ranked 159 of 164 districts
    5 Sterling –ranked 107 of 164 districts
    4 Ansonia – ranked 150 of 164 districts
    3 Wolcott – ranked 54 of 164 districts
    2 Marlborough – ranked 45 of 164 districts
    1 Ellington – ranked 61 of 164 districts

    Region 16 ranked 91 of 164 districts. How can this be?? How can the BOE honestly say we are improving when 7 out of the 16 lowest spending districts rank better than us with another 2 just barely better than us??? No matter if you use the old math we were taught going to school or the new they are teaching, we are no better than ½ of the worst spending districts.
    Yes there have been improvements as I honestly showed in rank changes in Long River and Woodland and there will be those that say with the new Prospect Elementary school there will be improvement there. Ok – believe it or not at your own risk and will take time for those numbers to become apparent. But to be honest with all the money being spent, I would think you can honestly expect to see similar number improvement with Long River as with Woodland. So I am honestly not impressed with Long River increase and in my opinion at best call it even.

    BUT what happened to Laurel Ledge?? Down 43 in 1 year?? BOE what is the reasoning that you want us to believe for the bottom falling out of that box?? But then again what can you expect from a school that marks a child wrong for correct math answers just because the process used is different from what is considered “newly approved” from what we were taught when we were kids (and been successful in using for all these years) even though in conversations with district officials they want multiple methods taught and was told that what is happening to my child is wrong and not district policy.

    I have huge concerns with what I and many people see a continuing process of throwing money at a process with no solid numbers that jump out at you showing that they are indeed on a process and should be allowed to continue as they have. The fact is that if independent and honestly researched, the numbers show breakeven / bare minimum improvement at best, startling issues at worst.

    If the Superintendent and/or the Board of Education members can’t give exact reasons for these at this meeting and in a letter to me, then I am no longer asking nicely for the comprehensive reporting of the Region based on true factual numbers specifically as it relates to where our students rate moving to other districts and where they are academically when entering higher education that many of us have been asking for years and never produce. Given the history of issues never getting addressed properly (roof, boilers, the Region project issues/problems/concerns (too many to list), safety proposals, recently planned technology “experiment” otherwise known as BOYD etc, etc, etc) sorry but you have not shown to many of the residents that you can be trusted to have the best interest on each town while providing a proper education. Therefore I, in the most strongest terms, suggest that an independent board is appointment by the two governing bodies of Beacon Falls and Prospect to review if the increases every year is actually needed (not wasted) and actually translates to students education that can equally compete on equal level with the high majority of the rest of the state’s districts. In asking this, understand that I am fully aware that there are districts much richer. But that is no excuse for what many feel is waste and mismanagement which throwing more money at only makes it worse.