Petition forces referendum on Region 16 budget

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Reg-16-OfficeREGION 16 — Three weeks after rejecting Region 16’s first proposed school budget, voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect will cast their ballots on a slimmer spending plan.

The Board of Education’s proposed $38.57 million budget for the 2013-14 school year will be voted on at a referendum May 30 after a petition was submitted to the district office Thursday with 238 signatures. The spending plan is an increase of about $1.28 million or 3.44 percent over the current budget.

The proposed budget increases the net education cost to Beacon Falls by $462,551, or 4.92 percent, to nearly $9.9 million. Prospect’s net education cost will increase to nearly $16.2 million under the proposal, an increase of $785,995 or 5.11 percent.

“It really is a budget that we can continue maintaining the stats quo with,” Superintendent of Schools Tim James said. “It’s not a budget that allows us to grow.”

James said throughout the budget development process the board has taken into consideration the economic climate and the fact that the region’s budget is the bulk of the budget for Beacon Falls and Prospect. He said the board has eliminated or reduced expenditures over the past several months to reflect that understanding.

The school board originally approved sending the budget to a paper ballot vote May 29 during a district meeting, but the petition forced the referendum.

The vote will be held May 30 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voting places for the referendum will be the firehouse on New Haven Road in Prospect and Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls.

The district meeting will still be held May 29 at 7 p.m. at Long River Middle School in Prospect to discuss the budget.

The board’s first budget proposal of $38.8 million was forced to a May 7 referendum by a petition and rejected by 185 votes.

Days after the budget failed, the board trimmed the increase by about $242,500 to reach the $38.57 million figure.

The board removed $85,000 for replacing the boiler at Long River. The boiler will still be replaced this year, but will be done so under an energy savings program through Connecticut Light & Power.

James said he was recently contacted by officials with Advanced Energy Management, a contractor that works with CL&P, about the program. James described the program as a “finance free loan.”

He explained CL&P will replace the boiler and for doing so will receive savings on the district’s electricity bill for a 36 month period to cover the cost of the project. The district will continue paying its current electric rate for 36 months, and then begin to realize any savings from the new boiler, he said.

The board also negotiated a lower fee for its health insurance broker over the past few weeks, a savings of $32,000; reduced the technology budget’s increase by 3 percent or approximately $40,000; cut back a full-time custodian to part time; cut a portion of the local control budgets at schools, reduced the budget for homebound tuition; put off replacing a carpet at Long River and put off archiving some documents to round out the remaining $242,500 reduction in the increase.

The revised budget comes on the heels of a number of positions eliminated or reduced prior to the first referendum.

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.

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

“I think the board has taken tough action and made the tough decisions they needed to make and we hope the taxpayers support the budget,” James said.

The 3.44 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 increase is driven by several fixed costs, such as increases in electricity, bus transportation and debt services. The largest increase, $656,640, comes in tuition for students who attend magnet schools and special education students who are out-placed to schools for services the district can’t provide. Three additional out-placed special education students moved into the district this school year, according to a budget overview.

More information on Region 16’s budget can be found on the district’s website, www.region16ct.org.