School board to present spending plan

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REGION 16 — The Region 16 Board of Education will present a $41.2 million budget proposal for the 2017-18 fiscal year at a public hearing on Wednesday.

The spending plan is an increase of $698,504, or 1.72 percent, over the current budget for the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

The public hearing begins at 7 p.m. at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Following the hearing, the board will approve a final budget proposal and send it to a public vote.

A district meeting to vote on the budget is scheduled for May 1 at Long River Middle School in Prospect. If the board sends the budget to a referendum, or if one is forced through a petition, the referendum will be May 2.

The $41.2 budget proposal is $217,582 less than the one Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin presented to the board in late February.

“We’ve streamlined the budget to a point where it’s a good fluid budget,” said board Chair Sheryl Feducia during a budget workshop on March 22.

The region’s debt payment for the $47.5 million school building project was reduced by $160,000. Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini said the district recently received a state reimbursement payment for the project. She said local officials don’t know when they’ll receive the payments and now that they have one in the bank they were able to reduce the debt for 2017-18.

The reductions from the budget presented in February also included cutting the equivalent of 1.5 full-time paraprofessionals and a full-time instructional aide for a $45,000 reduction.

These cuts are on top of proposed staff reductions that already included a full-time paraprofessional, a full-time instructional aide, a part-time reading specialist and the equivalent of 6.6 teaching positions. Three of those teaching positions are slated to be reduced at Laurel Ledge Elementary School.

The budget would add a part-time guidance counselor for the elementary schools — there is one that splits time between the two schools now — and a part-time special education secretary.

Employee salaries and benefits make up nearly 67 percent of the budget. Increases in these areas were partially offset by the staff cuts, but the region is looking at an 18.1 percent increase in health care costs.

Officials said last week that they are still out to bid for health care. They don’t expect the cost to come in higher than 18.1 percent and said it may come in a little bit lower.

As far as programs are concerned, the budget would add an afterschool world language enrichment program at the elementary level and an afterschool STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program for elementary and middle school students. A new reading program for kindergarten, first and second grades would also be added.

The net education costs — the education expenses that are not covered by other revenues like state aid — for Beacon Falls and Prospect weren’t available as of this post. Officials will have estimates for the public hearing, though the exact net costs still depend largely on how the state budget plays out.

The towns’ net education costs are based on the average daily membership of students. The average daily membership for Prospect will increase to about 61.1 percent, while the percentage of Beacon Falls students will drop to about 38.9 percent in 2017-18. The ratio is roughly 60.8 percent Prospect students and 39.2 percent Beacon Falls students this year.

Yamin suggested last week that no further reductions be made to the budget proposal.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere else to cut right now,” he told the board.

Feducia said the board has done everything possible to keep the increase low without hurting students.

“The students are our main concern and the students are not suffering,” she said.

Yamin is scheduled to host an open forum on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at district office, 30 Coer Road, Prospect, to discuss the budget. The forum was originally scheduled for March 25, but rescheduled to this weekend.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a change in the time of the community forum on Saturday.