Voters reject Region 16 budget again

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Region 16 Board of Education Treasurer Sheryl Feducia of Beacon Falls looks over referendum results Thursday night outside of Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls. Voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect rejected the $38.58 million budget proposal by 45 votes. Feducia is flanked by Beacon Falls Selectman Chris Bielik, left, and Beacon Falls Treasurer Michael Krenesky. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Region 16 Board of Education Treasurer Sheryl Feducia of Beacon Falls looks over referendum results Thursday night outside of Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls. Voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect rejected the $38.58 million budget proposal by 45 votes. Feducia is flanked by Beacon Falls Selectman Chris Bielik, left, and Beacon Falls Treasurer Michael Krenesky. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

REGION 16 — For the second time in as many tries, Region 16’s proposed budget failed to make the grade with voters.

Voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect rejected the proposed $38.58 million budget for the coming school year by 45 votes at a referendum Thursday. The overall unofficial count was 895 votes against the budget and 850 votes in favor of it.

Beacon Falls voters rejected the budget by 95 votes, 398 no votes to 303 yes votes. In Prospect, voters approved of the budget with 547 votes in favor versus 497 against it. However, the 50 vote margin in Prospect was not enough to carry the budget to approval.

“I’m so disappointed,” Board of Education Chair Priscilla Cretella said outside of Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls after the results were tallied.

Cretella said she didn’t immediately know where additional cuts and reductions are going to come from in the budget and the board will schedule a special workshop to review the budget.

“I honestly don’t know where we’re going to cut,” she said.

The $38.58 million proposed 2013-14 budget for the region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, would have increased school spending by about $1.3 million or 3.4 percent.

The proposed budget would have increased the net education cost to Beacon Falls by $462,551, or 4.92 percent, to nearly $9.9 million. Prospect’s net education cost would have increased to nearly $16.2 million under the proposal, an increase of $785,995 or 5.11 percent.

Voters at a May 7 referendum rejected a proposed $38.8 million school budget for 2013-14 that would have increased spending by 4.1 percent, or about $1.5 million.

The first budget proposal failed by 185 votes overall, 828 opposed and 643 in favor.

Both proposals were forced to a referendum by a petition submitted by Beacon Falls resident Ed Groth.

Following the first failed referendum, the school board trimmed the increase by $242,557.

Cretella said the board was working hard to reduce the increase to less than 3 percent, but doing so would have impacted educational programs in the district. She said the next round of cuts and reductions will affect those programs.

“The new cuts will be damaging to the education we give our kids,” Cretella said.

Over the course of the budget process, the board has cut or reduced a number of positions leading up to Thursday’s vote.

Five intervention specialists — four at the elementary schools and one at Long River Middle School — have been cut. A middle school teaching position has been cut as well as a third-grade teaching position at Laurel Ledge.

The board will not be filling a full-time position in special education. Two cafeteria aide positions have also been eliminated.

Also, the board reduced a theater teacher from a full-time position to a .8 position, a half position in art and a half position in consumer science all at Woodland. The board also reduced a full-time custodian position at Algonquin School in Prospect to part-time.

The 3.4 percent budget increase was the highest the board has sought in a few years.

Over the past four years the budget increase was less than 1 percent on average each year, according to school officials. Between 2003 and 2009, the increase averaged 4 percent annually.

Major cost drivers for the budget include an increase of $656,640 in tuition costs for students who attend magnet schools and special education students who are out-placed to schools for services the district can’t provide. Health insurance and debt service costs are set to increase $306,802 and $266,607 respectively. The increase in debt service is a result of the preliminary bonding of the $47.5 million three-part construction project, according to school officials.

Staff wages are going up $217,872. Wages for certified teachers are increasing by 2.99 percent and non-certified staff will get a 2.5 percent increase next school year under contractual agreements. Wages for both groups were kept flat this school year and according to officials the increase in wages is offset by staff changes.