PROSPECT — Communications from municipal insurance brokers have generally been bad news bulletins this budget season, but Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Jim Agostine told the Board of Education last Wednesday at Long River Middle School that his latest correspondence with the district’s representative, Paul Lewis of Lindberg and Ripple, Inc., defied the trend.
“What he said in his e-mail caused us all to go, ‘Oh my God. Is it possible?’” Agostine said, recalling a March 19 meeting with education officials that was interrupted by a message from Lewis. “What he said was, ‘Take the 11.8 percent increase in medical benefits that we were telling you and drop it down to a 9.8 percent increase instead. And take the 15 percent increase in dental that we were projecting and cut it down to an 8 percent [increase].’”
Those reductions have helped Agostine reduce further his original, $37.2 million budget proposal to $36.8 million. The school chief made his initial pitch March 10, and the board trimmed it by about $200,000 at a March 17 workshop. The updated figure represents a 1.93 percent increase over the school system’s current, $36.1 million budget.
Agostine outlined eight new cost cuts, including the insurance adjustments, last week that were not discussed at the first workshop. The reductions and their values are as follows:
- Updated medical insurance cost estimate, $57,100
- Updated dental insurance cost estimate, $31,750
- Reduced cost to repair a water pipe at Algonquin School, $12,200
- Reduced contingency fund, $25,000
- Eliminated LCD projector replacement, $21,365
- Eliminated network equipment replacement, $15,777
- Eliminated uninterruptible power supply replacement at Woodland Regional High School, $13,059
- Eliminated locker replacement in the eighth-grade wing at Long River, $25,100
The total savings of those items is $201,351.
Region 16 maintains three contingency funds, two for special education transportation and tuition and a third for other, unforeseen expenses. Former longtime Business Manager Bill Stowell, who is working with Interim Business Manager Hugh Potter to develop the district’s budget, assured board members the two special ed. accounts would remain untouched. But he said he was comfortable recommending a 50 percent reduction to the general contingency fund.
“I said to Jim [Agostine], ‘You know, I’ve been here 20 years, we’ve had $50,000 for other contingencies, and I don’t think we’ve ever used more than $20,000,’” Stowell explained. “Well, we went back through 10 years’ worth of records, and basically we haven’t used more than probably $15,000.”
Stowell suggested allocating $25,000, instead of $50,000, for general contingency. He further explained the technology cuts were made in consultation with Bruce Bartmess, the school system’s technology director.
The board voted separately on each reduction, and approved unanimously each one.
Agostine told members the updated budget is as frugal as it can be, sans staff and program cuts. Though he did not make formal recommendations, he furnished a list of rollbacks that he said would be necessary to reduce spending even more.
The next line of cuts would include one section of each of the following courses at Woodland: algebra I and II, geometry, pre-calculus, and Spanish II and II. Average class sizes would increase in each of those disciplines.
Also, different levels of the same courses would be combined, but students would be graded according to their levels. For instance, advanced placement calculus and honors calculus, currently taught separately, would be joined in a single section, but the AP and honors students would be graded differently. The same would be true of Spanish V and AP Spanish, and French III and French III honors.
“If you need to go for further cuts, that’s immediately where we’re going,” said Agostine, who reiterated the district’s desire to keep cuts as far as possible from students. “We’re going into staffing and we’re going into programming to get there.”