School budget plan keeps spending flat

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NAUGATUCK — For the second straight year — and the third time in the last seven years — the Board of Education will request a budget that doesn’t increase spending.

Following a two-hour long budget workshop on Feb. 16, the school board reached a consensus to move forward with a $61,683,651 budget request for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The nearly $61.7 million spending plan keeps spending flat compared to the current school budget, which also didn’t increase spending from the 2015-16 school budget.

“You guys are miracle workers,” board Chair Dorothy Neth-Kunin told administrative staff as last week’s workshop wrapped up.

While the board’s budget request from the borough remains flat, its total operating budget is going down. The total operating budget includes grants and supplemental revenue. Under the proposal, the total operating budget is $68.9 million, a decrease of nearly $2.2 million, or about 3 percent, from the current budget. The decrease stems from less grants and supplemental revenue.

Board Vice Chair Glenn Connan said the fact that the administration can present a zero percent increase two years in a row in the face of declining revenues and still put the focus on the students is a notable achievement.

“I think that’s impressive,” he said.

The budget proposal will go to a public hearing on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Board of Education office, 497 Rubber Ave., adjacent to Naugatuck High School. The board will officially vote Thursday night on the plan, which will then be presented to the Joint Boards of the Board Mayor and Burgesses and the Board of Finance on Feb. 27 at Town Hall.

(The full budget plan can be viewed on the school district’s website.)

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said a lot of strategy, time and energy went into making the choices of where the district wants to spend money. She added, though, the district had some good fortune when it came to the cost of health benefits to keep spending in check.

The cost of health benefits will go down a little more than $1.1 million, or 7.35 percent, to nearly $14.1 million in the coming fiscal year, according to the budget proposal. The decrease stems from a drop in the number of employees taking the benefits offered by the district — the district has changed to a high-deductible plan — and a number of retired employees switching from the district’s health care coverage to a plan provided by the state, Locke said.

The steep decline in the cost of health benefits helped offset increases in other areas of the budget.

The largest increase is in salaries, which are going up $1.14 million, or 3.27 percent, to nearly $36 million in the budget proposal. Salaries make up 58 percent of the proposed spending plan.

The cost of supplies and utilities is set to increase $19,603, or 0.83 percent, to about $2.4 million, according to the proposal. The capital budget will go up $61,407, or 10.85 percent, to $627,353, under the plan.

Purchased services, which include items like leases for software and police and fire coverage at events, will go down $103,064, or 1.18 percent, to about $8.6 million.

The budget proposal would add a net of 8.6 full-time positions to the district. That figure includes four full-time teaching positions and a part-time library media specialist that were added during the current school year to alleviate issues with class sizes at the elementary level.

The additional staffing includes 1.5 paraeducator positions and part-time guidance and reading/math assistant positions. A part-time nurse and security position would be cut, under the budget proposal.

The spending plan would also create a new administrative position at Naugatuck High School that would be the director of athletics, activities, physical education, and health and wellness.

The position, which is part of a long-term plan to reorganize the administrative structure at the high school, would coordinate health and physical education for the entire district and be the athletic director at the high school.

Locke said creating the position, which she envisions working a shift that would begin in the early afternoon and end in the evening to revolve around when sports are occurring at the high school, would be cost-neutral.

Currently, the athletics director at the high school is a part-time position that is paid a stipend. Under the plan, the stipends for the athletics director, and department coordinators for physical education and health would be eliminated, Locke said. Also, an attendance monitor and part-time security position would also be cut, she said.

The $61.7 million spending plan assumes the same level of state funding as the current budget. The state budget is a wild card as lawmakers are dealing with a projected deficit of more than $1 billion in the coming fiscal year.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s two-year, $40.6 billion budget plan would shift state funding from 138 municipalities that his administration deemed fiscally stable to 31 financially struggling municipalities. Under Malloy’s plan, Naugatuck would net an additional $902,644 in state aid, which includes some changes to education funding provided to the borough, according to Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess.

At last week’s workshop, Hess said if Malloy’s plan goes through as is it would be good for Naugatuck, but he added the chances are slim.

“Will that happen in the end,” Hess asked rhetorically. “Who knows?”

Locke said the board’s obligation is to put forth the best educational plan for the students. If reductions are needed later, she said, the board will prioritize any changes that have to be made.

“This is really uncertain times,” she said regarding the state budget.