Fate of Region 16 budget rests in voters’ hands

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Reg-16-OfficeREGION 16 — Voters will have the final say on Region 16’s proposed $38.8 million budget for the coming school year.

The proposed 2013-14 budget for the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, is an increase of about $1.52 million or 4.1 percent. The proposal increases the net education cost for Beacon Falls $558,031, or 5.93 percent, to $9.96 million. Prospect’s net education cost will increase $933,072, or 6.07 percent, to $16.3 million under the proposed budget.

“It’s a very tight budget,” said board chair Priscilla Cretella, who voted against the budget when it was finalized last month in the hopes of making further reductions.

Cretella said the board worked hard to keep the increase low without increasing class sizes and disrupting the core curriculum at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls.

“We’re trying very hard without disturbing class size, that’s where we are,” she said.

The board approved in April sending the budget to a paper ballot vote Monday at a district meeting at Long River Middle School in Prospect.

However, a petition was submitted Thursday with 208 certified signatures from residents of Beacon Falls to force a machine vote on the budget, according to school officials. The referendum will be held Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voting will take place at Laurel Ledge Elementary School, 30 Highland Ave., Beacon Falls, and the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect, 26 New Haven Road

The district meeting will still be held Monday at 7 p.m. then adjourn to the referendum.

The 4.1 percent budget increase is the highest the board has sought in a few years.

Over the past four years the budget increase was less than 1 percent on average each year, according to school officials. Between 2003 and 2009, the increase averaged 4 percent annually.

The proposed increase is driven by fixed costs.

Tuition for students who attend magnet schools and special education students who are out-placed to schools for services the district can’t provide is set to increase $656,640. Three additional out-placed special education students moved into the district this school year, according to a budget overview.

Staff wages are going up $217,872. Wages for certified teachers are increasing by 2.99 percent and non-certified staff will get a 2.5 percent increase next school year under contractual agreements. Wages for both groups were kept flat this school year and according to officials the increase in wages is offset by proposed staff changes.

Health insurance and debt service costs are set to increase $306,802 and $266,607 respectively. The remaining significant increases come in electricity costs, $132,689, and bus transportation, $74,534.

In order to reach the $38.8 million budget, the board cut a number of positions.

Five intervention specialists — four at the elementary schools and one at Long River Middle School — have been cut. A middle school teaching position has been cut as well as a third-grade teaching position at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls.

The board will not be filling a full-time position in special education. Two cafeteria aide positions have also been eliminated.

The position cuts will be made through a mixture of layoffs and attrition.

Also, the board reduced a theater teacher from a full-time position to a .8 position, a half position in art and a half position in consumer science all at Woodland.

Cretella said if the budget is voted down the board will hold another budget workshop to discuss further reductions and cuts.

“I am hopeful that the people will understand where we are and vote for it,” said Cretella about the budget.