Proposed borough school budget up 4.5 percent

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NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education has trimmed its proposed budget to a 4.5 percent increase, an amount its members said reflects no more than contractually negotiated raises, rising utility, and health care costs and the loss of $1.4 million in federal grant funds.

If the budget for municipal services remains flat, that would result in a $159 tax increase for a property assessed at $200,000. The overall tax impact of the school board’s budget proposal, however, remains to be seen. The mill rate and municipal budget will not be decided for months, and the cost of health insurance and the state’s contribution to education remain unknown as well.

More cuts to the school budget are on the table. The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses will have at least two opportunities to change the proposed budget before it is adopted.

“I think there’s going to be further vigorous discussion,” finance board member Daniel Sheridan Jr. said. “We may find that, once the town side is said and done, we have a huge increase.”

Voters, as always, will be given a hearing and the opportunity to petition for a referendum after the budget is adopted in late May.

Alec Wargo, who heads the board of directors of Naugatuck Taxpayers In Revolt, said taxpayers will not be able to swallow this latest increase. The school board can always lay off employees and cut open positions, Wargo said.

“The general economy in Connecticut is still deader than a doornail, and to still go after more and more spending is highly improper,” Wargo said.

Taxpayers in Revolt, which has frequently organized referendums and protested tax increases, has become less active in recent years. While a majority of voters last year opposed the budget, too few voters turned out for the results to be valid. Officials said at the time that was a show of support for the increased budget, and some are hoping for the same this year.

“I hope that the community supports the funding given to the Board of Education,” school board Chair David Heller said. “We’re all on the same team. We want what’s best for the community and the students and the schools.”

To keep the spending increase to 4.5 percent, the school board will have to close Central Avenue Elementary School and the Prospect Street Early Learning Center, eliminating 14 positions, members said. Naugatuck High School will have to do without a set of iPads, which Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said are replacing textbooks nationwide, for freshmen and sophomores.

CIGNA, the health insurance carrier for municipal and school employees, gave the school board a renewal quote of approximately 20 percent, not counting the savings when all teachers switch into high-deductible health plans in January, Mayor Robert Mezzo said.

Under CIGNA, health insurance will cost the board an additional $760,000 next year, but the borough board Tuesday will consider bids from other companies for borough and school employees.

The school board’s budget was flat in the 2010 fiscal year and has increased less than 1 percent since then.

A 4.5 percent increase next year would mean an average increase of 1.5 percent over four years.

“There’s a lot of companies in this country that couldn’t operate on those increases,” Mezzo said.