Borough school officials discuss budget reductions

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The Board of Education’s finance subcommittee met Wednesday night to discuss ways to reduce a school budget increase for next school year.

NAUGATUCK — As school officials continue to search for ways to whittle down an estimated 9 percent increase for the 2012-13 school budget, their focus turned to three proposed areas for reductions.

The Board of Education’s finance subcommittee met Wednesday night to discuss how to bridge an estimated $5 million budget gap due in large part to rising fixed costs and a loss of $1.4 million federal stimulus money. As things stand now, the school budget would be $62.4 million for next fiscal year.

James Jordan, who chairs the subcommittee, said that most of the budget is tied up in contractual agreements that needed to be paid.

“Numbers are numbers. We don’t have a lot of play,” Jordan said.

The subcommittee focused on three proposals to reduce the increase, closing Central Avenue Elementary School, cutting building maintenance and removing money to buy iPads for students.

Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson explained to the subcommittee that closing Central Avenue would save about $927,000. Most of that savings would come from eliminating staff. He told the subcommittee that if they close any of the schools, the savings would be relatively the same.

School officials have said that closing Central Avenue School was proposed because the students could be divided among four other schools without having to redistrict other students.

Tindall-Gibson said that the challenge was how the board could eliminate nine teaching positions without closing a school.

“The reason there is a recommendation to close a school is that you can’t get down to a certain number of staff without doing that,” Tindall-Gibson said.

Business Manager Wayne McAllister told the subcommittee that there was a possible $561,000 reduction from the audio visual section of the budget.

The school board was planning on furnishing freshman and sophomore students with iPads, which they would use throughout their high school careers.

The iPads would replace the textbooks students received throughout high school. This purchase would ultimately save the school money in the long term officials said.

According to McAllister, the budget request included $504,000 for 900 iPads and $27,000 for the electronic textbooks. However, reducing the money from the budget request would eliminate the school’s proposed plan.

This reduction worried the subcommittee members.

“If we start taking hits on technology, we will start losing the edge we need to prepare for the future,” said board member Dorothy Neth-Kunin.

She felt that if the money for the iPads were removed this year, it might not ever be put back into the budget.

McAllister told the subcommittee officials were also looking at cutting $165,000 from the capital projects budget.

There would still be enough money to allow the schools to do some maintenance, McAllister said. But, he said, there would be projects that the schools wouldn’t be able to do like fixing the leaking roofs at Prospect Preschool, Western Elementary School, and City Hill Middle School.

The subcommittee members did not like the idea of cutting these projects from the budget. They felt it was important to upkeep the maintenance of the buildings.

“One of the things we didn’t want was for basic maintenance to suffer,” Neth-Kunin said.

Jordan expressed concern about the amount of money that is being taken out of the proposed budget and where it was being taken from, but said the subcommittee needs to find a way to get down to a reasonable budget increase.

“The numbers are tight,” Jordan said. “If you look at any business you can find a little here and a little there, but we are not within $200,000 or $300,000 of the goal.”

The subcommittee made no decisions on any reductions. Officials suggested meeting with the entire school board to discuss presenting the budget proposal as is to the borough’s tri-board — comprised of the school board, Board of Finance, and Board of Mayor and Burgesses — to see where the tri-board wants the school budget to come in at. A special meeting of the full school board is scheduled for March 22. The tri-board is expected to meet March 26.