Borough school officials present budget proposal 

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

NAUGATUCK — COVID-19 relief funds will play a role in how much the borough allocates for the 2021-22 school budget.

School officials March 29 presented the Board of Education’s $64.8 million 2021-22 budget proposal to the Board of Finance during a virtual workshop. The spending plan increases the borough’s allocation for schools by $1.8 million, or 2.98%, over this fiscal year.

“This past year has not been easy for anyone, and this budget focuses on the needs of our students and takes into consideration the supports that they will need after the pandemic,” Board of Education Chairman Jeffrey Litke said.

The $64.8 million would be what the borough dedicates for schools. The overall proposed school operating budget is $75 million, which includes additional grant and supplemental revenue of about $10.1 million.

“We have a budget that is more than just numbers and dollars and cents. It really is a plan to support our schools and students,” Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said. “So, it’s about students.”

The Board of Finance agreed to leave the budget proposal as is for now, as officials await more guidance on how COVID-19 relief funds can be spent.

Montini said the school district is expected to receive a $3.7 million ESSER II grant and an $8.5 million American Recovery Act grant. The money can be used in the next two school years, he said. The money can’t be used for increases in salaries or benefits, he said, and 20% of the funds must address academic learning loss.

Montini said the district spent approximately $2 million this school year to operate schools amid the pandemic, including on improving ventilation, personal protective equipment, bus monitors and teachers for students who are distance learning at home.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said officials expect to receive more defined guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department in the next few weeks on how the grants can be spent.

Hess recommended the finance board accept the school board’s budget proposal for now. He said there will likely be ways the relief funds can be used to serve the school board and borough well.

“If there is a creative way, an innovative way where we can maybe cut the number (budget proposal) down a little. There’s going to be no dramatic change to the number, but I think there are some small things that we can do to make it better for both us,” Hess said. “Without the Treasury Department guidance, it’s very difficult.”

The main drivers of the proposed budget increase are contractual obligations and insurance and transportation costs, Litke said.

Salaries are going up $593,072, benefits are increasing $977,213 and purchased services are rising $371,936 in the budget proposal, according to Montini.

The budget proposal assumes the borough will continue to pay $900,000 of the school board’s insurance costs in the municipal budget.

Borough officials moved $900,000 of insurance costs from the school budget to the municipal budget for this fiscal year. The move freed up money for other items in the school budget, while allowing borough officials to limit the increase in school spending to avoid setting a higher minimum school spending requirement. The borough can’t decrease school spending since Naugatuck Public Schools is an Alliance District, so any increase sets a new bar.

Hess said school and borough officials have a great working relationship.

“There’s never been a better level of cooperation between the borough finance team and the Board of Ed. They talk back and forth. We work things out,” Hess said. “I have a very high level of confidence that we’re getting the real numbers, we’re working together and things are going well.”

The Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance is scheduled to adopt a budget proposal April 26 to send to a hearing May 10.