School chief proposes $40.8M budget

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REGION 16 — Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin presented a 2015-16 spending plan last week that would increase Region 16’s budget by 2.72 percent.

Yamin’s budget proposal is $40.8 million, an increase of $1.08 million over the current budget for the district. Region 16 oversees school in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

How the spending plan would impact Beacon Falls and Prospect specifically isn’t known yet as officials are waiting on revenue figures.

Yamin said the spending plan isn’t unrealistic or extremely significant compared to the district’s expectations for 2015-16.

“I think it still gives us what we think we need to be a strong school system,” Yamin said.

The largest increase in the budget plan is $727,740, or 13 percent, for health benefits.

Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini said officials are planning for the 13 percent increase, but hard numbers won’t be known for a few more weeks.

The other major drivers for the increase are $388,521 to implement full-day kindergarten, $261,175 more for utilities and an $112,599 increase in workers’ compensation and liability insurance.

The budget proposal also has a wide-ranging impact on staff. Under the plan the equivalent of 21.4 full-time positions will be cut, while the equivalent of 14.8 full-time positions will be added. The net reduction of staff is 6.6 full-time positions.

The staff changes impact certified and non-certified staff, and the majority of the reductions come as a result of Algonquin and Community Schools merging into the new Prospect Elementary School in the fall.

The proposed staff changes equate to a savings of $381,726, but wages are still set to increase $63,514 overall in the budget.

Yamin expects most of the staff cuts to come through attrition or movement within in the district, but anticipates there will be a few layoffs as well. Exactly how the staff changes play out won’t be known until late April, he said.

The changes in staff are a result of lower enrollment and programmatic needs in the district, Yamin said. Over the past five years, enrollment has dropped by 231 students, or 9.3 percent, based on Oct. 1 counts.

As he was presenting the plan to the Board of Education, Yamin said, officials shouldn’t solely think about keeping spending flat or an increase at a minimum when crafting a budget.

“We still have to talk about what we need to be progressive and to continue to have the highest expectations for our kids, for our staff, so we are a high-performing school district,” Yamin said.

With that in mind, Yamin’s proposal includes $9,500 for an academic enrichment program and $4,500 to develop a talented and gifted program at Long River Middle School.

The district started STEM nights this school year to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs, Yamin explained. The proposed enrichment program would be a permanent program after school and on Saturdays that focuses on engaging students in STEM fields.

Long River used to have a talented and gifted program, Yamin said. The $4,500 would be used to develop another program at the school over the first half of the school year. A pilot program would be run in the second half of the year. Yamin said the hope is it can become a permanent part of the budget in the 2016-17 school year.

“We identify kids as gifted, but we don’t do anything after we’ve identified them,” Yamin said. “I think it’s a disservice. Just as we provide for kids who need extra help, we should also provide for those kids who can perform higher.”

Yamin told the board the budget proposal was created with fiscal responsibility in mind and without using the strategy to “bury money” so cuts can be made. He said if funds are cut, it will impact staff or programming.

“I think the budget is responsive,” Yamin said. “I think it provides our students with personalized learning experiences and programs that meet the needs of all kids.”

School Board Chair Donna Cullen said it’s early in the process, but described Yamin’s proposal as fair. She added she appreciates the way Yamin presented and streamlined the budget proposal.

“Of course we always have questions,” Cullen said, “because we want to understand what his thinking was. But we also support his decisions as we look through it as well.”

The school board will review the spending plan over a series of workshops. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 8. The final budget proposal will be voted on at a district meeting or referendum in early May.