NAUGATUCK — When crafting the budget proposal for the 2015-16 school year, Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke told borough officials her focus was on putting together a financial plan that informs where each dollar is spent and how every decision was made.
“Our hope is this layout helps to promote trust and transparency,” said Locke as she presented the spending plan to members of the Board of Finance and Board of Mayor and Burgesses Monday night. “We really believe that if the taxpayers know how their dollars are being spent and what choices we’re making that it will be easier to support.”
The Board of Education is requesting $62.5 million from the borough, an increase of nearly $1.6 million or roughly 2.6 percent over the current allocation. The total proposed operating budget, which includes grant revenue and supplemental income, is $69.2 million. Grant revenue and supplemental income are projected to be flat for the coming fiscal year.
Out of the total $69.2 million proposed operating budget, about $32.4 million comes from local tax dollars.
The budget proposal’s bottom line hasn’t changed since Locke first presented it at a workshop in January, but some figures within the budget have been adjusted.
“We’ve been working hard as a board and an administrative team to see what we can do to save cost and save expenses and provide the best possible product to our students that we can,” school board Chair David Heller said.
The budget proposal, Locke explained, wasn’t constructed by starting with a number first and then cutting.
“We didn’t approach this plan from a dollars-and-cents approach initially,” she said.
Rather, Locke said, the budget was built using an analysis of the student, facility, technology and personnel needs at each school. Data-based decisions were then made, she said, in collaboration with administrators across the district.
“This plan represents a collective movement in terms of the district,” she said.
The budget book presented to borough officials Monday night breaks down the budget for each department and every school. The full school budget proposal is available online on the school district’s website, www.naugatuck.k12.ct.us.
Benefits and salaries make up 80 percent of the spending plan.
The largest increase in the proposal is roughly $1.13 million for benefits. This includes about $541,000 more for health benefits and a $278,444 increase in the school board’s pension contribution.
The additional money for pension costs will allow the board to fully fund its pension contribution at the level recommended by actuaries.
Controller Bob Butler, who is also the school board’s business manager, said the borough has been subsidizing the additional pension contributions.
Mayor Robert Mezzo said that since the increase in the pension contribution is in the school budget there will be a corresponding reduction in the municipal budget.
Salaries overall are set to reduce about $218,000 due to proposed staff cuts. The spending plan calls for a net reduction of the equivalent of 21.5 full-time positions, including one administrator, 6.6 teachers, five paraprofessionals, 1.5 instructional aids, 0.1 psychologists, 3.5 secretaries, one social worker assistant, 0.5 custodians, 1.5 security personnel and 0.5 information technology personnel.
Locke said the staff reductions were made in collaboration with principals. They align with strategic priorities and represent fiscal responsibility, she added. She said without the cuts, salaries would have increased about $900,000.
“There was a lot of strategy put into this section of our proposal,” Locke said. “When 80 percent of your budget comes from salaries and benefits that’s one of the places you have to look to be frugal.”
Other increases in the budget plan include $277,757 more for transportation services and an additional $266,628 for supplies and utilities. Under supplies and utilities, school officials are seeking $135,520 more for textbooks.
Locke said there is a gap between curriculum and core resources. She said the money for textbooks also include online resources.
“It’s something that strategically needs to be in our request to you,” Locke said.
The Board of Finance will review the budget proposal at a meeting March 16 at Town Hall. The finance board is expected to vote on school budget at the meeting to move forward with through the budget process.
After Monday’s presentation, Board of Finance Chair Diane Scinto said she was very impressed with the work that was put into the school board’s budget presentation. The way the spending plan is broken out will make it much easier to make decisions, she added.
“It’s just incredibly comprehensive and the best budget book I’ve ever seen in my years on the board,” Scinto said.
Scinto said she purposely didn’t review the book before the meeting Monday because she wanted to wait until after the presentation. She said the first thing that stood out to her is the $1.13 million increase for benefits and insurance makes the majority of the overall increase.
Scinto said finance board members will review the proposal and come into the March 16 meeting ready to delve deeper into the spending plan.