Voters OK $37.3 million Region 16 budget

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Region 16 interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James, left, and Board of Education member Nazih Noujaim write down the results of a vote Monday night on the region’s proposed $37.3 million school budget. The budget passed, 195 to 119, at a region meeting held at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — The support of Prospect voters carried Region 16’s $37.3 million budget for the 2012-13 school year to approval Monday night.

A total of 314 paper ballots were cast at a region meeting held at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. After all the ballots were counted the proposed $37.3 million budget passed by 76 votes, 195 to 119.

Prospect residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of the budget, 100 to 16. Beacon Falls rejected the budget by a slim margin, with 103 votes against the budget compared to 95 yes votes.

“It was very close in Beacon Falls. I am very happy that Prospect carried us. We didn’t want to make any more cuts, because they would have been costly educational cuts,” said Board of Education Chair Priscilla Cretella after the vote was announced. “I’m very happy for the support tonight.”

The $37.3 million budget is an increase of $527,628 or 1.44 percent increase over current school spending. Prospect’s net education cost will increase $528,484 or 3.55 percent to $15.4 million. Beacon Falls’ net education cost will increase $203,403 or 2.19 percent to $9.5 million.

The increase to the towns is more than the increase in the actual budget due to a decline in revenues for the board, Business Manager Hugh Potter said.

The possibility remains that the cost to the towns could be further reduced. The budget uses the current level of Education Cost Share funding the towns receive from the state. If the state were to increase the town’s ECS grants, that extra money will go towards reducing the towns’ education expenses.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James said whether ECS is increased should be known within the next couple of weeks.

When asked about the vote, James said, “It tells us that again the voters in the communities support education.”

Late last year, voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect approved a three-part, $46.7 million school building project. The project’s approval followed the same pattern as Monday’s vote with Prospect voters approving the project by a wide enough margin to overcome Beacon Falls voters rejecting it.

The fact that Beacon Falls voters rejected the budget showed James that the board must maintain a fiscally responsible attitude.

“For me it gives me pause to say we need to continue to be fiscally responsible,” James said.

In getting the budget increase down to 1.44 percent the board reduced or cut from multiple areas of the budget, the largest being nearly $300,000 from technology improvements in the schools.

The budget also includes the elimination of a handful of positions.

A sixth-grade teaching position at Long River Middle School will be eliminated. The remaining position cuts will take place at Woodland. Two part-time custodial positions, which are already vacant, will be cut at the high school along with a part-time English teacher and social studies teacher.

The passing of the school budget comes after municipal budgets for both towns were approved at town meetings over recent weeks.

The Beacon Falls town budget is set to increase by $164,864 to roughly $6 million. Added on to the school budget increase, expenses in Beacon Falls will increase by about $368,000.

The Prospect town budget will go up 1.1 percent or $79,309 to $6.98 million. After factoring in the school budget, the town’s expenses will go up about $608,000.

Exactly how the towns’ mill rates will be impacted remains to be seen.

Beacon Falls budget documents calculated a proposed tax rate of 30.80 mills, prior to Monday’s vote, using the school budget figures. That would mean an increase of 4.7 mills.

Beacon Falls First Selectman said the Board of Finance is expected to approve the mill rate at its June 12 meeting, unless the town receives word from the state on funding earlier.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said the town will not set the mill rate until it receives the final revenue figures from the state. He said the mill rate is expected to be set in early June. Prospect’s current mill rate is 25.20 mills.

Increases in the mill rates would reflect increases in spending as well as declines in both towns’ grand lists. Beacon Falls grand list dropped 12.75 percent, while Prospect’s grand list decreased 5.9 percent.