Naugatuck schools eye 4.68% budget hike

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BY ANDREAS YILMA
CITIZENS NEWS
NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education is proposing a $70.3 million budget for the 2024-2025 school year.

The proposed budget represents a $3.1 million[–] or a 4.68%[–] increase compared to the current budget year.

The school board presented the budget proposal to the finance board on March 21 at the Board of Education room.

Board of Education Chairman Jeff Litke said the main drivers behind the budget hike are contractual increases, and increased healthcare and tuition costs.

“We go over our budget with a fine tooth comb and find areas where we could cut and where adjustments can be made,” Litke said.

The school district has about 4,200 students, which is about 109 students fewer  or 2.5% from year to year and a decrease of 200 students over the course of the last five years. Despite the enrollment decrease, there has been more than a 14% increase of multi-lingual learners with an increase of 64 students, an increase of 15 more students with Individualized Education Program, Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said.

Under the proposed financial plan, 55% of the expenditures are slated for salaries, 23% for benefits, 17% for purchased services and 4% for supplies.

Montini said he initially asked the board in February for a 5.89% increase. Since the state is in the second year of Gov. Ned Lamont’s two-year biennial budget, legislators passed a law that communicated what the school board would receive regarding grants the following year. On Feb. 7, Lamont came back with his state budget, which called for $1.1 million less for the borough. This reduction from the state caused the budget proposal increase to go to 7.71% to cover costs before the school board worked to bring down the increase to 4.68%.

The increases in the budget include a $570,322 or 1.49% increase in salaries, $916,901 or 6.18% in benefits and $1.5 million or 14.7% in purchased services.

Montini said the school board has cut about $800,000 in salaries to get hike down to 4.68%. The position reductions include one part-time bathroom monitor, 12.5 teaching positions, 4.5 family engagement specialist positions and two part-time secretary posts. However the budget proposal calls for additional grant-funded positions, including an occupational therapist, a board certified behavioral specialist and six behavior support specialists.

The teacher posts cut include 10 positions from kindergarten to sixth grade and two positions at the high school.

Montini said he did not expect programs to be cut, but class sizes likely will increase.

“Enrollment at the high school is projected to be down again,” Montini said. “Kindergarten, four of those elementary positions are collapsing kindergarten because of the new change in law, not having as high in enrollment. Two of those are earmarked for transitional K, so that takes those four and then the others are essentially increased in class size.”

Beginning with the 2024-2025 school year, children need to turn 5 years old on or before Sept. 1 in order to be automatically eligible for kindergarten. This is a change from the current kindergarten cutoff date of Jan. 1.

Children who entered kindergarten in the 2023-2024 school year had to turn 5-years old on or before Jan. 1. However children will now have to be 5-years old on or before Sept. 1 to start kindergarten in the 2024-25 school year. If a child turns 5-years old on Sept. 2 through Sept. 1, 2025, they will now enter kindergarten in the 2025-26 school year, according to state Office of Early Childhood and Department of Education website.

Montini said reducing further than proposed $3.1 million increase would be detrimental.

“You’d be closing a school without a place for the students,” Montini said. “You probably would be looking at shifts in a school or carving out an area of the high school like in 1993.”

Of the $70.3 million budget, 49% or $41.1 million come from the borough, 35% or $29.2 million from the state, $10 million or 13% from grants and the remaining 3% from supplemental revenue.

The Finance Board will begin its final review of the entire borough-wide budget on April 15.