Mayor Mark Lauretti is expected to release his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year on March 21, and it may contain better news for the school system than in some recent years.
Noting that the Board of Education (BOE) hasn’t received a substantive increase for a few years, Lauretti said the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal year should be different.
“They will get an increase — probably 65% to 70% of what they are asking for,” he said.
The BOE has requested a 4.9% increase to $66.84 million. That was reduced from the 5.5% increase in school Superintendent Freeman Burr’s original recommendation to the school board.
Lauretti said the city also will continue to assist the schools with some capital needs, especially when it comes to security issues.
The city is expected to fund entryway upgrades at the three oldest elementary schools (Long Hill, Mohegan and Elizabeth Shelton). This could include new exterior doors and better camera surveillance.
Two of these schools have the original doors from the 1960s, said Lauretti, pointing out that new doors also would increase energy efficiency.
Burr said the school system could use increased funding due to the higher cost of negotiated salaries and health care benefits for both certified (teachers and administrators) and non-certified staff. The upcoming fiscal year will be the final year in a three-year teachers’ contract.
Another large increase in the BOE-approved budget is for bus transportation, but those costs may now be lower than anticipated because the city is moving forward with the purchase of a propane-powered school bus fleet.
One priority for the district is new computers and Promethean boards (interactive, digital whiteboards) in certain schools.
‘Collaborative effort’ on security upgrades
Burr described the security improvements to be made in the schools as “a collaborative effort” involving city government and the school system.
Future improvements could involve adding “security film” or stainless-steel wire mesh near entryway windows and doors at other schools, installing panic buttons, moving to Web-based surveillance to assist off-site police monitoring, putting better locks on classroom doors, and introducing scan cards to enter buildings at most times.
“These take time,” Burr said.
Will there be a tax increase?
Separate from the school budget, Lauretti said the overall budget shouldn’t put too much of an added burden on taxpayers.
“My goal is to either lower taxes or leave them alone,” he said. “I think we’re close to doing that — but that is based on what I know now, and things will change by the time the mill rate is set.”
Lauretti said he now is “pretty close” to completing his budget proposal. “I’m looking at revenue projections,” he said. “The grand list is not going in the wrong direction, and that’s important.”
The grand list (tax base) has increased by 0.5% in the past year.
One factor in the new city budget will be if be any drastic changes are made in the state budget that impact municipal aid.
Lauretti will release his budget during a presentation to the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Apportionment and Taxation.