Borough school board trims budget increase to 3.4%

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NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education has reduced its budget increase to 3.4 percent for the coming school.

The $58.9 million budget represents a $1.9 million increase over the current budget.

The proposal was whittled down from a 4.5 percent increase the school board discussed with borough officials earlier this month.

The board reduced its proposal by about $2.3 million during a special meeting Wednesday night.

The board began its meeting by approving the switch in health care providers from Cigna to Aetna, which is a high deductable plan. The change will save the district $658,039.

Reductions in unemployment and worker’s compensation led to a savings of $344,468.

The board removed both the one-to-one computing initiative, which would have provided a tablet to ninth- and tenth-grade students, and 10 of the 12 documentary cameras for the high school from the proposed budget for a savings of $546,400.

The board also cut $165,000 from proposed capital projects around the district.

Business Manager Wayne McAllister felt the 4.5 percent budget increase discussed was a high expectation.

“I would suggest we be prepared for something less than the 4.5 percent increase from the town,” McAllister said.

Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson agreed that 4.5 percent was too high to pass. He told the board that it had the opportunity to work towards a lower budget.

“With the insurance savings, which is very significant, it is possible for the board, giving up some of the recommended improvements for next year, to achieve a number that was lower than the 4.5 (percent) that was targeted by the tri-boards,” Tindall-Gibson said.

Tindall-Gibson felt that the board could achieve a full percent lower than the tri-boards had recommended. He explained, however, that achieving that percentage meant closing schools.

“It would seem to me that, if you could get to 3.5 percent, everybody in town would appreciate that. You can’t do that without closing a school. You can do that by closing Central Avenue and repurposing it as an early childhood education center,” Tindall-Gibson said.

The board voted to close Central Avenue and Prospect Street Preschool during the meeting. Central Avenue will not close. The building will receive the preschoolers from special education and federal Head Start and School Readiness programs who this year occupy Prospect Street Preschool.

When the schools had been factored out of the budget, the district was left with a 3.17 percent increase.

Since the increase was lower than it had originally anticipated, the board discussed the possibility of adding back positions that had been cut.

Tindall-Gibson brought up the fact that the preschool needed a half-time assistant principal. The person who was doing the assistant principal duties now was not being paid for them.

Board member Glenn Connan wondered why the board wanted to hire a half-time assistant principle for the preschool. He felt given the duties laid out for the position, it would be wiser to pay a stipend to somebody already employed by the district. He explained the stipend would be less than paying someone new and providing them health insurance.

Mayor Robert Mezzo agreed with that idea.

“We’re making a tough decision in closing Central, and my basis for that is there are programs, there are tutors, there are consultants that our children need and we’d rather pay for them than the building, but then we’re adding half of an administrator,” Mezzo said

The board ultimately decided to reinstate three positions —  a computer education teacher for grades kindergarten through six at approximately $52,000, a half-time music teacher for grades three and four at approximately $26,000, and a social worker for grades seven and eight at approximately $52,000.

The seventh- and eighth-grade already has one social worker whose job is to primarily work with students that have developmental disabilities. The reinstated social worker would be for the general student body population at the school.

With these positions reinstated, the budget came to the $58.9 million figure.