Naugy school board aiming for no increase in budget

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NAUGATUCK — It’s going to be tight, but Board of Education Chair Kathleen Donovan hopes to keep this year’s budget flat.

“I think we’re going to have to prepare a zero or very close to zero budget,” Donovan said.

She said, given the economy, town and state agencies were not prepared to approve any increases.

Board member Rocky Vitale pointed out that while keeping costs down is important, the board must also prepare an educationally sound budget.

Donovan and other members of the board met March 3 to discuss preliminary budget numbers for the coming school year.

School officials didn’t give a specific figure for next year’s projected budget. Rather, the discussion focused on trying to find a balance between the current economic reality and the needs of the district.

The biggest increase for next year’s budget is the addition of three new positions in the schools.

The board hopes to add a math and physical education teacher in preparation for the coming secondary school reform requirements passed by the state. The school officials have said they will need to add 11 new positions in all over the next five years to meet the new, unfunded mandates.

“It is daunting to look at that … business 101 is to have sustainable goals,” said board member James Jordan.

The board has also voted to add a full-time business manager to replace Wayne McAllister, who currently runs the district’s finances in addition to his duties as borough comptroller.

School officials are looking to add a part-time human resources position and grant writer as well.

Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson said the student population should stay stable, so they will not need extra funds for more students.

Gibson said he met with administrators prior to the meeting in order to find out what they expected from the upcoming budget.

“[Administrators] were pretty much okay with the budget that they have,” said Tindall-Gibson.

The few increases administrators did request were new text books for the high school and more paper.

They didn’t have a total figure for how much books would cost, but Director of Instructional Services Brigitte Crispino said algebra books usually cost about $85 to $95.

“If you need it, you need it,” Donovan said. “We have to have the kids have the supplies that they need and we’ve always robbed that item.”

Board members looked for other areas in the budget that could be cut to offset the proposed increases. But, they’re limited in what area they could cut from due to contractual obligations and mandates.

“We’re really only talking about 19 percent of the budget that we really need to zero in on,” Tindall-Gibson said.

The other 81 percent of the budget, he said, is fixed for contractual salaries and benefits.

Projections are currently under budget for utilities, but with gas prices going up, board members were wary of cutting that account next fiscal year.

“Of course, the big tail that wags us is insurance,” Tindall-Gibson said.

That account is looking good so far this year, with a projected surplus of $81,000 but insurance claims spiked in March the last two years, according to Tindall-Gibson.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

New health care legislation that requires companies to fund dependents until age 26 could also affect that line item, Donovan pointed out.

Despite a tight budget where each line item is going to be scrutinized for possible waste, the board hopes to maintain the schools’ current curricula and extra-curricular activities.

“We’re hoping to not lose any programs. It’s important to the board to maintain what we have,” Donovan said.

The schools might still loose a few positions to retirement which wouldn’t have to be replaced, saving a few dollars, Donovan said. Then again, class sizes might have to increase a little, she added.

As school officials continue to work on their budget they must also contend with the uncertainty of exactly how much state and federal funds will come their way.

Currently, Gov. Dan Malloy’s budget flat funds the state’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, which spares Naugatuck from losing millions of dollars in education aid.

Last year, the state used federal money to fund ECS, those funds are drying up this year. The federal funds made up $4.1 million of Naugatuck’s ECS grant last year.

However, nothing is certain in terms of education aid as budget battles loom both on the state and federal level.

For now, the school board is working with the figures they have to reach a zero percent increase.

Donovan sent board members home with stacks of numbers to pour through before the next budget meeting scheduled for March 16.

“We have a lot to digest,” she said.