Region 16 board adopts $40.7M budget proposal

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

PROSPECT — The Region 16 Board of Education last week approved a $40.7 million budget proposal for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The budget maintains total school spending at the same level as this fiscal year. Though there is no increase to the budget’s bottom line, the net education costs for Beacon Falls and Prospect, which comprise the region, aren’t staying the same.

The net cost is the share of the school budget funded by local taxes. The net cost is divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect based on the percentage of students from each town. The percentage of Prospect students increased to 63.25%, which shifted more of the burden on the town.

Based on the student population ratio and estimated revenues, Prospect’s net cost is projected to increase $1.4 million, or 7.4%, to $20.5 million, according to the budget proposal. Beacon Falls’ net cost is projected to decrease $53,025, or 0.4%, to $10.8 million.

The budget process moving forward will be different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school board will hold a hearing on the spending plan April 22 during a virtual meeting that will be live streamed on YouTube. A summary of the budget proposal is available on the school district’s website, www.region16ct.org. The public can submit questions on the budget through a link that will be on the website and the live stream of the meeting on YouTube.

Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order that suspends requirements for public budget votes. There won’t be a district meeting or referendum on the budget this year. The school board will set the budget and could approve it, alter it or table a vote at the April 22 meeting.

School officials maintained overall spending at $40.7 million due largely to a reduction of $1.1 million in debt payments that helped to offset increases in other areas of the budget, including for salaries and benefits. The $1.1 million was the final payment on the bond for the construction of Woodland Regional High School, which was paid this fiscal year.

The proposal cuts a 10-month secretary position and a part-time teaching position. The budget also reduces the assistant principal position at Long River Middle School and a secretary position from 12 months to 10 months a year, and reduces a library aide position to 32.5 hours a week.

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin added a new, full-time transitional kindergarten teacher position to the proposal before last week’s vote. He said the position will help students in kindergarten and first grade who may have fallen behind since schools have been closed and the district turned to distance learning. The position is only for next school year, he said.

The new position is estimated to cost about $70,000 in salary and benefits. Yamin said the additional cost was offset by a reduction in health care costs after the district locked in its rate for the coming fiscal year.

Board members have asked the administration what can be done to cut the budget and reduce the burden on taxpayers, especially in Prospect. Yamin said officials will continue to look for possible areas to reduce costs. He said the district can’t prepay for items and services in next year’s budget that aren’t on site and used this fiscal year.

“I’m very confident with this budget,” he told the board. “I think it meets our needs.”