School board trims spending plan

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From left, Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James, Board of Education Chair Priscilla Cretella, board member Robin Wright and board member Nazih Noujaim listen to Director of Technology Bruce Bartmess explain the impact of a reduction to the technology budget Tuesday night at Long River Middle School in Prospect. –LUKE MARSHALL
From left, Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James, Board of Education Chair Priscilla Cretella, board member Robin Wright and board member Nazih Noujaim listen to Director of Technology Bruce Bartmess explain the impact of a reduction to the technology budget Tuesday night at Long River Middle School in Prospect. –LUKE MARSHALL

 

REGION 16 — The Region 16 Board of Education has trimmed approximately $242,500 off its proposed budget increase for the coming school year in the wake of last week’s failed referendum.

The board unanimously approved a new budget proposal of $38.57 million for the coming school year during a meeting Tuesday night at Long River Middle School in Prospect. The proposal is an increase of $1.28 million or 3.44 percent.

The proposed budget increases the net education cost to Beacon Falls by $462,551, or 4.92 percent, to nearly $9.9 million. Prospect’s net education cost will increase to nearly $16.2 million under the proposal, an increase of $785,995 or 5.11 percent.

On May 7, the board’s original budget proposal of $38.8 million was rejected overall by voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect by 185 votes at a referendum. In order to reach the budget approved Tuesday night, the board made a number of cuts and adjustments.

The board removed $85,000 for replacing the boiler at Long River. The boiler will still be replaced this year, but will be done so under an energy savings program from Connecticut Light & Power, officials said. The savings from the program are intended to offset the cost to the district.

The board also reduced the technology budget’s increase by 3 percent or approximately $40,000. Bruce Bartmess, the district’s director of technology, said the reduction would mean that only half the computers that need to be replaced at Long River and Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls will be replaced.

The trimming of the increase was aided with a $32,000 savings in health insurance.

 “We were able to negotiate a lower fee with our broker who has been working with the district for quite some time,” Vice Chair Donna Cullen said.

The board also cut back a full-time custodian to part time, cut the local control budgets at schools, reduced the budget for homebound tuition, put off replacing a carpet at Long River and put off archiving some documents to round out the remaining reduction in the increase.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James said the board made tough decisions, but cut what they thought was needed to make a budget that can pass a public vote.

“I think it was clear tonight that the board made some informed decisions. They were difficult decisions. They were decisions that they might not have made prior to this meeting tonight, but I think the board wants the budget to pass. They care about the education of our kids, but they had to make some tough decisions tonight,” James said.

The $38.5 million budget proposal will now head to a district meeting vote.

The board was divided about whether to send the new budget to a district meeting or a referendum vote.

Board member Robert Hiscox felt that since the proposed budget included an increase over 3 percent, it should go to a referendum vote.

“If this were less than 3 percent I would support the district meeting but I just believe we should hear from as many people as possible and make it as convenient as possible for people to voice their opinion on this budget,” Hiscox said.

Board member Nazih Noujaim disagreed citing economic reasons.

“I mean, with the cuts that we’re doing, we’re taking out supplies. To spend another $7,000 [for the referendum] would be very difficult,” Noujaim said.

The district meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on May 29 at Long River Middle School.

The budget can still be sent to referendum by a petition containing at least 200 certified signatures of Beacon Falls and Prospect residents. A petition would have to be submitted by May 24 at 4 p.m. If a referendum is forced, the vote will be held May 30.

The 3.44 percent budget increase is the highest the board has sought in a few years.

Over the past four years the budget increase was less than 1 percent on average each year, according to school officials. Between 2003 and 2009, the increase averaged 4 percent annually.

The increase is driven by fixed costs.

Tuition for students who attend magnet schools and special education students who are out-placed to schools for services the district can’t provide is set to increase $656,640. Three additional out-placed special education students moved into the district this school year, according to a budget overview.

Staff wages are going up $217,872. Wages for certified teachers are increasing by 2.99 percent and non-certified staff will get a 2.5 percent increase next school year under contractual agreements. Wages for both groups were kept flat this school year and according to officials the increase in wages is offset by proposed staff changes.

Health insurance and debt service costs are set to increase $306,802 and $266,607 respectively. The remaining significant increases come in electricity costs, $132,689, and bus transportation, $74,534.

The revised budget comes on the heels of a number of positions eliminated or reduced prior to the first referendum.

Five intervention specialists — four at the elementary schools and one at Long River Middle School — have been cut. A middle school teaching position has been cut as well as a third-grade teaching position at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls.

The board will not be filling a full-time position in special education. Two cafeteria aide positions have also been eliminated.

The position cuts will be made through a mixture of layoffs and attrition.

Also, the board reduced a theater teacher from a full-time position to a .8 position, a half position in art and a half position in consumer science all at Woodland.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.

1 COMMENT

  1. “The board removed $85,000 for replacing the boiler at Long River. The boiler will still be replaced this year, but will be done so under an energy savings program from Connecticut Light & Power.”

    and

    “The trimming of the increase was aided with a $32,000 savings in health insurance. “We were able to negotiate a lower fee with our broker who has been working with the district for quite some time,” Vice Chair Donna Cullen said.

    These beg the question – why was this $117,000 in the budget that went to referendum in the first place if the projects can be completed without the $117k ? It seems to be an examples of very poor stewardship of the money proposed to be paid by the taxpayers in Beacon Falls and Prospect.