Voting underway on Region 16 budget

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Reg-16-OfficeBEACON FALLS — For a second time, residents in Beacon Falls and Prospect are voting today at a referendum on a proposed Region 16 Board of Education budget for 2013-14.

The district’s proposal of about $38.58 million is being voted on by a paper ballot after a petition was filed last week, school officials said.

Voting is taking place at the Prospect firehouse, 26 New Haven Road, and Laurel Ledge Elementary School, 30 Highland Ave., Beacon Falls. Voting closes at 8 p.m.

The spending plan is an increase of 3.4 percent, or about $1.3 million over this year’s $37.3 million budget.

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

Beacon Falls resident Edward Groth submitted a petition May 23 to force the referendum, Town Clerk Leonard Greene Sr. said. Greene said 238 signatures were certified. Only 200 were required.

Region 16 serves about 2,421 students in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

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

The budget proposal was shot down by 185 votes overall, or 828 opposed and 643 in favor, according to the official tally.

Prospect voters approved the budget by 55 votes, or 429 in favor and 374 opposed, while voters in Beacon Falls opposed it by 240 votes, or 454 against and 214 in favor, the tally shows.

That plan was brought to a referendum after a petition to do that was filed by Groth.

Following the failed referendum, the school board shaved $242,557 from the spending plan.

Reductions made include $85,000 for a boiler at Long River; $30,000 from textbooks and workbooks; $40,560 from technology; $7,500 for digitalizing records archived currently at Algonquin School; and $32,000 from insurance broker fees, according to Superintendent of Schools Tim James. The board also reduced a full-time custodian position at Algonquin to part-time, he has said.

James has noted that Long River will have an operational boiler before the heating season starts under a partnership with Connecticut Light & Power Co. and an energy company that will be doing other energy-efficiency projects in the district. He said the district also will be able to purchase textbooks and workbooks from this year’s plan.

The revised budget comes on the heels of a number of positions eliminated or reduced prior to the first referendum.

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 3.4 percent budget increase is 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.

Some major factors that are driving the increase are a raise in tuition costs, health and workers’ compensation insurance and debt service as a result of the preliminary bonding of a $47.5 million three-pronged construction project, school officials said.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.