REGION 16 — The Region 16 Board of Education began its budget discussions Tuesday night in the face of a 6.5 percent budget increase.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Jacqueline Jacoby presented a $39.7 million budget, an increase of $2.4 million or 6.5 percent over the current budget, to the board during a budget workshop at Long River Middle School in Prospect.
Jacoby said the increase is a result of meeting contractual obligations, selected educational priorities, security and necessary building improvements.
Jacoby said contractual commitments alone for next school year, which include transportation, teach contracts, health insurance and non-certified staff contracts, will increase the budget by 5.4 percent.
The largest increase in Jacoby’s presented budget is $626,640 in the tuition line item.
Business manager Pamela Mangini explained the money is to cover the cost of tuition for students who attend special education programs outside of the district and magnet schools.
State funds to offset the tuition costs are no longer coming to the district, Mangini said.
The second largest increase in the budget is $393,613 for contractual commitments, which includes salary and health benefit increases, she said.
Jacoby said the 6.5 percent increase is the largest the district has proposed in years. She said she looked at the budget increases for the last four years before coming to the meeting.
“Your average increase is under 1 percent,” Jacoby said. “What you’ve got here is an accumulation of delays in addition to contractual obligations.”
Board member Sheryl Feducia said the board had been concerned in the past that the budget was too low, but felt that since people had been losing their jobs it was not the right time to raise the budget.
“Obviously the concern is we want a budget that we all can support fiscally and know we can present it to the public and get it passed,” Feducia said.
Feducia raised concerns over the size of the increase and what the public’s reaction to it will be.
“We have to find some money,” Feducia said. “We know this is not going to fly, as much as we know how much everything is needed. I know every year we say this is the worst year ever, but I’m going to say it again. This is the worst year ever.”
School board Chair Priscilla Cretella said the time has come to make the difficult choices on what to keep in and take out of the budget.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve talked about, but some of these things have to become real now. It can’t be just a discussion and it can’t be next year. It has to be this new budget,” Cretella said.
Jacoby pointed out that to get a 1 percent decrease the board would need to remove approximately $374,000 from the proposed increase.
“I’d rather be adding than subtracting. We’re all sitting there with the same problem. It’s so much easier to give than to take away, but this is a take away year,” Cretella said.
Cretella said she believed if the board went before the public with a 6.5 percent increase it would have to go through many budgets before it created one that would pass.
“I’m saying this is the year cuts have to be made. Nothing against education because I’m a huge proponent of it, but something needs to go because, yes, we have to give them the best we can, but the best we can with a dollar sign,” Cretella said
Cretella said it came down to who will pay for the educational programs the district wants for the students.
“We want to give the kids what we have presently. We would like to enrich the program, but on whose back,” Cretella said.
Based on student ratio Prospect is responsible for about 60 percent of the budget while Beacon Falls pays the remainder. The board will hold several more budget workshops over the coming weeks. Workshops are scheduled for Tuesday at Long River Middle School, Wednesday at Woodland High Regional School, and April 3 at Woodland. All meetings will take place at 7 p.m.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 10 during the board’s meeting at Woodland. A district meeting on the budget will be held May 6 at Long River.