Region 16 school board dives into draft budget

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Region 16 Board of Education members Robert Hiscox, left, and Nazih Noujaim look over the operations and maintenance budget during a budget workshop Feb. 22 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

PROSPECT — The Region 16 Board of Education has begun whittling down its draft budget for the 2012-13 school year, which would raise school spending by roughly 3 percent.

Overall, the 2012-13 draft budget board members are working with is $37,881,139, an increase of $1,112,824 or about 3 percent over the current school budget.

“We expect that there will be reductions,” said interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James said.

The board held its first budget workshop prior to its regular meeting Feb. 22. The driving factors for the 3 percent increase, officials explained, are mostly fixed costs.

“These are the kind of drivers that are beyond our control,” James said.

Salary for certified staff is set to increase $481,721, while medical benefits are expected to increase 3.64 percent or $107,092. The board is also dealing with increases in transportation, $102,161, unemployment compensation, $58,800, 10 percent and 7.5 percent increases in liability insurance and workers compensation insurance respectively, along with an incremental retirement increase of $103,044 for noncertified union members, which was won in arbitration. Supplies for a readers and writers workshop would cost an additional $60,000, and there’s an increase of $30,000 included in the draft budget for text books as well.

“Those are the budgetary drivers for this year that bring us in at a 3 percent increase from last year,” Business Manager Hugh Potter told the board.

After the fixed costs, James said, in a subsequent interview, there’s little “discretionary money” for the board to make reductions. He said although the economy is showing signs of improving, it’s not at the point where a 3 percent increase would be palatable for taxpayers. James added the board is also sensitive to the fact that taxpayers in Beacon Falls and Prospect recently approved a three-part, $46.7 million school building project.

“We’re looking for more reductions,” said James about the draft budget.

Following the brief overview of the increase and its driving factors, the board’s workshop focused solely on the budget for operations and maintenance of plant care and grounds. Board members picked through the operations and maintenance budget looking for potential items to take out.

“I have a feeling a lot of the things are in here because they’ve been in here,” board member Robert Hiscox said.

Hiscox pointed to pest control inspections performed by Terminix that are done annually at the district’s buildings. He felt the inspections could be done on a rotating basis, with half of the buildings inspected every other year to save money.

Hiscox added the inspections at Community and Algonquin schools in Prospect could be taken out entirely and took it a step further saying the board shouldn’t put any additional funds into the buildings unless there are safety are health issues.

As part of the building project, Community School will be closed and the two-story wing of Algonquin School will be demolished once the new elementary school in Prospect opens. The board’s district office will move into the portion of Algonquin left standing.

The board will continue to go through specific budget accounts during a series of upcoming workshops. The next scheduled workshop is Wednesday at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls beginning at 7 p.m. The board is expected to review its transportation and insurance budgets.

James said officials decided to go through detailed budget accounts rather than put the entire budget out there at once so board members can get a better understanding of what goes into constructing the budget.

When questioned as to whether the draft budget included any academic program changes, James said it’s too early in the process to look at such changes.

A final budget proposal is expected to be voted on in early April prior to the April 11 public hearing at Long River Middle School in Prospect.

As the board continues to craft its budget, James emphasized the budget is still very fluid.

“It’s a work in progress,” James said. “It’s going to be refined.”