REGION 16 — After trimming more than $400,000 from its 2013-14 budget proposal last week, the Region 16 Board of Education approved a $39 million budget to present to the public.
The proposed budget, which is an increase of $1.76 million or 4.7 percent over the current budget, will be presented during a public hearing Wednesday night at 7:15 p.m. in the auditorium at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls.
Heading into last Wednesday night’s budget workshop, the board had already made cuts to the proposal, including cutting a third-grade teaching position at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls due to decreased enrollment. The third-grade teacher is retiring and the position won’t be filled. The board had also decided to not fill a full-time position in special education. The board had also reduced a half position in art and a half position in consumer science both at Woodland.
Last Wednesday night, the board approved roughly $411,000 more in reductions, including some more staff cuts.
The board voted to eliminate two cafeteria aide positions, one each from Algonquin and Community schools in Prospect, and three intervention specialists equaling $10,119 and $174,797 respectively worth of cuts.
The cut in cafeteria aides will result in layoffs. Interim Superintendent of Schools Jacqueline Jacoby said the district will try to find other positions for those laid off.
Jacoby originally proposed cutting five cafeteria aides, bringing the number of aides down from 17 to 12. However, some on the board felt uncomfortable with the cuts, particularly that Community School would have only been left with one aide.
“To leave Community (School) with one doesn’t seem right,” board member Wendy Oliveira said.
Ultimately the board approved cutting two aides through a weighted vote.
Jacoby also proposed eliminating five intervention specialists, four at the elementary schools and one at Long River Middle School.
“Do we love what we’re proposing to you?” Jacoby rhetorically asked the board. “Certainly not, but it’s workable.”
Although administrators felt the district can continue educational improvement without the five interventionists, some on the board argued the proposed cut was too much.
“I think the reduction of five is just too drastic,” board member Robert Hiscox said.
Hiscox, who said he would favor cutting positions through attrition rather than layoffs, felt the board should cut two of the interventionists.
Two of the interventionists are expected to fill open positions within the district next school year, Jacoby said.
Board member Nazih Noujaim said he doesn’t want to lay off anyone if the board doesn’t have to, but felt the board has a responsibility to the taxpayers.
In the end the board settled on cutting three interventionists, which was also approved through a weighted vote.
The board also removed $113,000 from the budget intended for school security upgrades. The board is planning to put a bond package together for security improvements to send to a referendum.
Finally, the board used savings within the current budget to pay for text books in next year’s budget, reducing the proposed text book account.
Business Manager Pamela Mangini told the board $50,000 remained in a text book account in the current budget because the district used a grant to pay for the books. The board voted to use $35,000 of those funds to buy music books for next year.
The $35,000 reduction brought the proposed budget down to roughly $39 million.
“I don’t feel this budget is out of line with our needs,” said Hiscox, who added the board has deferred maintenance and hiring staff over recent years to keep budgets low.
The board approved sending the proposal to a public hearing with Chair Priscilla Cretella and board member Sheryl Feducia voting against it. They both wanted to revisit further reductions.
As of Friday afternoon, the district didn’t have the net costs of the budget proposal for Beacon Falls and Prospect. Prospect pays roughly 60 percent of the budget while Beacon Falls pays the rest based on student population ratio.
Traditionally the board carries over $500,000 in its budget, which is given back to the towns to help pay for school expenses. However, this year the carryover is expected to be less, which would also impact the increase in education expenses for each town.
Following the workshop, Cretella encouraged everyone to come to the public hearing Wednesday to learn about the budget and get answers to any questions they may have.