Superintendent presents $41.4M budget proposal

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REGION 16 — The starting point for Region 16’s 2017-18 school budget is a 2.26 percent increase.

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin last week presented a $41.4 million budget proposal for next school year to the Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The spending plan is an increase of $916,086, or 2.26 percent, over the current budget.

School officials were able to keep spending flat when preparing the current budget. However, Yamin said, the board doesn’t have that luxury when it comes to the 2017-18 spending plan.

“It’s nice to come in at a zero percent,” Yamin told the board. “However, we have a responsibility to our kids, to our administrators and to our staff to provide what we need for resources.”

Yamin described his proposal as a “working document” and the first attempt to lay out what officials think the district needs for its students and staff. The board will review the proposal during workshops before adopting a plan that will go to a public hearing on March 29. Ultimately, voters will have the final say on the budget.

The largest factor in the increase is an additional $609,425 in debt payments as the district is starting to pay back bonds for the $47.5 million school building project. The project included the new Prospect Elementary School, a new district office, and renovations and additions to Laurel Ledge Elementary School.

The district was looking at a $1.9 million, or 4.7 percent, increase based on fixed increases alone, including $541,748 more for salaries and $506,584 more for health benefits. However, this increase was offset, in part, by proposed staff reductions.

The proposed staff reductions include a full-time paraprofessional, a full-time instructional aide, a part-time reading specialist and the equivalent of 6.6 teaching positions. Three of those teaching positions are slated to be reduced at Laurel Ledge.

The budget would add a part-time guidance counselor for the elementary schools — there is one that splits time between the schools now — and a part-time special education secretary.

The net impact of the proposed staff changes is a reduction of $427,344.

The staff reductions come at a time when enrollment continues to decline in the region. In 2010, there were 2,484 students enrolled compared to 2,191 students in October of 2016, an 11.8 percent drop. Enrollment is projected to go to 2,128 next school year.

As far as programs are concerned, the budget would add an afterschool world language enrichment program at the elementary level and an afterschool STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program for elementary and middle school students. A new reading program for kindergarten, first and second grades would also be added.

The budget would pay for the continued implementation of the one-to-one device initiative, which is expected to provide Chromebooks for all students in grades six through 12 over three years, and new uniforms for several athletic teams at Woodland Regional High School.

Officials didn’t know last week exactly how the proposed budget would impact Beacon Falls and Prospect, and much still hinges on how the state budget plays out.

The towns’ net education costs, the education expenses that are not covered by other revenues like state aid, are based on the average daily membership of students. That ratio is roughly 60.8 percent Prospect students and 39.2 percent Beacon Falls students this year.

The ratio will change next school year.

According to Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini, the average daily membership for Prospect will increase to about 61.1 percent, while the percentage of Beacon Falls students will drop to about 38.9 percent.

The change means that if everything stayed the same, Prospect would pay more while Beacon Falls paid less simply because of the shift in student population.

School board Chair Sheryl Feducia said she was impressed that administrators presented a 2.26 percent increase, knowing that the board was facing large fixed increases.

Feducia said the board will delve into the plan over the next few weeks. She said she knows the towns probably want the budget to come in with less than a 2.26 percent increase, since they are facing cuts in state aid, but the board has to do what is right for the district.

“We can’t worry about that to the extent of making deeper cuts that are going to hurt the region,” Feducia said. “We’ve done that on a few occasions, and we’ve unfortunately paid for it for many years after that. So we always come in with a good, solid bottom-line budget.”