Region 16 board debates how to handle surplus 

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

PROSPECT — Region 16 Board of Education members Feb. 10 debated whether to transfer any more surplus funds to its capital nonrecurring account, but took no action.

The school board, which oversees public schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, finished the 2019-20 fiscal year with a budget surplus of $661,286.

Excess school money is returned to the towns in the form of credits on their education payments to the region. The money is divided based on the percentage of students from each town. For the 2019-20 school year, 63.25% of students lived in Prospect and 36.75% in Beacon Falls. If $661,286 is returned, Prospect and Beacon Falls would be credited about $418,000 and $243,000, respectively, this fiscal year.

Regional school districts are allowed under state law to transfer up to 1% of their budgets into a capital account, which can be used for capital projects. In Region 16’s case, this equates to about $407,000 for the 2019-20 budget.

The region has about $130,000 in the capital account, officials said.

Vice Chairman Robert Hiscox said the full surplus should be returned to the towns. He said the board could look at potentially bonding money in a couple of years to pay for some upcoming projects, like replacing the track at Woodland Regional High School.

“I believe we’re in good fiscal shape,” Hiscox said.

Hiscox, a Prospect resident, said returning the full surplus would still represent a shortfall in what Prospect anticipated as revenue in its budget.

Prospect’s 2020-21 budget anticipated $550,000 in surplus school funds as revenue, according to budget documents. The Beacon Falls 2020-21 budget included only $20,000 in revenue from a school budget surplus, budget documents showed.

Board member Nazih Noujaim, a Prospect resident, favored returning the full amount, as well. He said the board needs to think about how taxpayers will be affected, especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The region last school year credited the towns a total of about $287,000 after the pandemic hit and some expenses weren’t realized. Last October, the school board voted to transfer $186,692 from the surplus to its capital fund to finish paying for a HVAC project at Long River Middle School. If not for these moves, the final surplus would have been more.

The board could transfer up to about $220,000 more to the capital account, which would drop the amount that would be credited to the towns to $441,268.

Chairman Priscilla Cretella, a Beacon Falls resident, said she wants to transfer $100,000 more to the capital account. She said she doesn’t want to create a “slush fund,” but added it’s hard for the board to obtain money when it needs it.

Cretella said the board is responsible for four school buildings and its own budget, and should have money aside for projects.

“We have to protect ourselves in many ways,” she said.

Board member Erik Dey, a Beacon Falls resident, agreed with Cretella but said he wants more information on upcoming capital projects.

Board member Ben Catanzaro, a Beacon Falls resident, sought clarification on the state law and whether money transferred has to be designated for a specific project.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said he’ll have more information for the board at its Feb. 24 meeting, when the board is expected to vote on the matter.