Region 16 board sends budget to voters


PROSPECT — The Region 16 Board of Education last week approved sending a roughly $40.73 million budget proposal for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a vote at a district meeting.

The budget proposal keeps school spending for the region, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect, at the same level as this fiscal year.

“I think it’s a financially-responsible budget with good resources,” said Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin during a brief and sparsely-attended hearing on the proposal April 10.

A district meeting to vote on the budget is set for May 6 at 7 p.m. at Long River Middle School. The board approved paper ballots as the method of voting on the budget. The budget could be sent to a referendum, if residents petition to do so.

While spending stays flat under the proposal, the budget includes the addition of several new staff positions. The staff changes include a new instructional aide for fifth grade and increasing a part-time world language teacher at Long River to full time. The change would allow the region the introduce fifth-graders to world language through Rosetta Stone, an online world language program, without increasing spending. It would mark the first time in the region that elementary school students would be exposed to world language during the school day.

“It’s something that we’ve had on our plate for a very, very long time and it’s finally going to be realized,” said Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella about offering world language at the elementary schools.

If everything goes well, Yamin said the board could look at expanding the world language program in the 2020-21 school year.

The proposal also includes eight new instructional aides — one for each of the first grade classes in the region — and adds 20 additional days to the Woodland Regional High School athletic director job to handle any issues that need to be addressed over the summer break.

The staff changes would eliminate four positions — a full-time and part-time secretary, a part-time nurse’s aide and a part-time armed security guard.

“We’re adding staffing,” Yamin said. “So we’re not requesting a zero (percent increase) and depleting our resources.”

The budget proposal also includes about $15,000 for supplies for the fine arts departments at Woodland and Long River, $30,000 for a new phone system at Long River, $15,000 for curriculum writing, and funds for various other items, like teacher training and new uniforms for some sports teams.

The increases are offset by decreases in other areas, including a $300,000 decrease in the district’s debt payments.

Even though spending isn’t going up, the projected net education cost to the towns aren’t staying the same.

Officials estimate that Prospect’s net education cost will increase about $560,000, or 3 percent, while Beacon Falls’ net cost will decrease about $158,000, or 1.4 percent.

The figures are based on projected cuts in state education funding in Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed two-year state budget, which is likely to change as the proposal works its way through the state legislative process.

“The uncertainties are what the state’s going to do,” interim Director of Finance and Business Operations James Carroll said.

Also, the disparity in the projected impact to the net education costs is due to a shift in student population. The net cost, which is the share of the school budget funded by local taxes, is divided between the two towns based on the ratio of students as of Oct. 1. The percentage of Prospect students in the district increased slightly to 61.78 percent, while the percentage of students from Beacon Falls decreased to 38.22 percent.