BY ANDREAS YILMA
NAUGATUCK — School officials March 27 presented the Board of Education’s $67.4 million 2023-24 budget proposal to the Board of Finance during a hybrid budget workshop.
The spending plan increases the borough’s allocation for schools by $2.9 million, or 4.59% over this fiscal year.
Board of Education Chairman Jeffrey Litke said the main drivers of the budget increase include health insurance costs, transportation and tuition.
“The board worked hard to get to the request of this amount that provides for our students and ensures they receive learning and services that they deserve and need,” Litke said.
About $38.2 million would be what the borough dedicates for schools. The overall proposed school operating budget is $79.4 million, which includes additional grant and supplemental revenue of about $11.9 million and education cost share from the state of about $29.2 million.
Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said this is a higher request than has been typical and that has been awarded, but it is needed. The increases are at least partly due to economic factors as the rate of inflation from December 2021 to December 2022 was 8.1%.
Although salaries make up 57% of the school budget, that line item is only going up by $19,000 or 0.05% to $38.5 million after school officials reduced 11 full-time positions. Some of the other drivers of the budget hike include benefits costs increasing by $842,464 or 5.87% to $15.1 million, the cost for purchased services spiking by $1.7 million or 20.12% to $10.6 million and the cost of supplies going up by $323,199 or 15.68% to $2.3 million.
Some of the reduction in staff include the elimination of a library media specialist, a secretary, four classroom teachers and a part-time security employee. Officials originally requested an additional school resource officer for pre-K to grade six schools that would be funded by the school board and Naugatuck Police Department. But that proposal has been eliminated from the budget.
Montini said enrollment has been relatively flat at about 4,320 students. Enrollment trends have allowed school officials to decrease some staff without significantly impacting class sizes.
The school district is adding two new positions, a part-time special education teacher at Hop Brook Elementary School and a part-time speech and language pathologist at Early Childhood Center funded through the Individual with Disabilities Education Act grant.
The district has 47 more students with Individual Education Plans, an increase of 6.21% in one year. School officials are seeing new families move into the district that already have IEPs as well as identifying at a higher rate, Montini said.
The borough can’t decrease school spending because Naugatuck is an underperforming Alliance District, so any increase sets a new bar.
“What school officials are asking for is the money to operate the schools with not a lot of additions to the budget,” he said. “It’s not just our budget, it’s how we run our schools, provide services and programs. It’s how we take care of your children, our children, collectively the children of this great borough.”