School spending plan earns praise

Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke, left, and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini present the Board of Education’s proposed 2017-18 budget to the Board of Finance on Monday at the Board of Education offices. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education’s proposed budget for 2017-18 received high marks from borough officials.

The Board of Finance on Monday unanimously approved the school board’s proposed $61.7 million spending plan. The approval doesn’t mean the proposed budget can’t be change as the borough continues budget deliberations.

The proposed school budget does not increase spending from the current budget.

“They did a great job building their budget from the ground up, looking at what the needs of the school district are to educate our children, who will be the taxpayers of the future,” Finance Board Chairwoman Diane Scinto said.

This is the second year in a row the budget has come in flat. Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said the board doesn’t set out to create a flat budget, but rather a budget that serves the needs of students.

“From the inception the idea has been build a budget that is focused on what our students need in our school buildings that supports our strategic plan,” Locke said.

Two of the biggest drivers in budget are salaries and health benefits, but for different reasons.

Salaries are increasing about $1.14 million, or 3.27 percent, to nearly $36 million in the budget. Salaries make up 58 percent of the proposed spending plan. The increases are primarily contractual, Locke said.

The cost of health benefits is decreasing by about $1.1 million, or 7.35 percent, to nearly $14.1 million in the spending plan.

The decrease is primarily due to 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, according to officials.

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.

Locke said the district’s Alliance Grant, a state grant provided to the 30 lowest-performing public school systems, was cut $600,000 in 2016.

The proposed budget reflects the cut to the grant with cuts to the district’s summer intervention education programs, Locke said. The budget proposal assumes the Alliance Grant and Education Cost Sharing grant will remain flat next school year, she said.

“Should the governor’s (budget) proposal make any changes to that, we would go back to the board and do the necessary revisions and bring them back to you,” Locke said.

Finance Board member Dan Sheridan praised the spending plan.

“This time last year you warned us we might see an increase. I think you have done the responsible thing,” Sheridan told Locke. “We have a high mill rate in town. We have to operate within what the taxpayers can afford in their minds. I think you have done a great job in terms of working the budget and finding cost savings. And throughout the year too, not just at budget time.”

Sheridan said he used to be a critic of the school board’s budgets, but is now pleased with the direction it has been going.

“I think we now have a system here where we have some very responsible budgeting taking into account everybody’s needs,” Sheridan said.