Public school administrators continue the push to eliminate the deficit in the current fiscal year’s budget.
At present, the education budget — for fiscal year ending June 30 — is running a $167,000 deficit, but school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said the district remains “committed to reducing and eliminating the current year deficit, and that is moving forward well.”
The Board of Education budget for the present fiscal year was approved at $72.5 million. For the coming 2019-20 fiscal year, the board voted to submit a $74,873,730 proposed budget, a $2.17 million, or 2.99%, hike from the current year.
Board Vice Chair Thomas Minotti, in his report on the recently held Board of Education Finance Committee meeting, stated that the three areas of concern, as has been noted in the past, are costs associated with long-term substitutes, special education tuition for private schools and special education transportation.
School Finance Director Rick Belden said the district has instituted a freeze on hiring and expenditures.
“We are actively working on a plan to reduce the deficit to $0 by year end, and it includes savings from discretionary spending accounts and possible savings in special education transportation,” said Belden, adding that he anticipates that the deficit number will “be revised downward each month, absent any significant unplanned costs incurred between now and the end of the year.
“The finance department is closely monitoring requests for expenditures with assistance from school administrators and department heads,” said Minotti. “Special attention is going to be given to staffing of bus monitors, analysis of utilization of professional services, continued monitoring of discretionary expenditures.”
Minotti noted that as far as revenue, the district has collected $340,000 in additional state revenue to offset line items in the budget.
According to Minotti, the education cost sharing grant is estimated at $6 million, some $600,000 higher than what the board had budgeted. This state grant is paid directly to the city of Shelton and included in the city’s general fund. The excess cost grant of $1.4 million is some $300,000 higher than budgeted, said Minotti, and this state grant is to offset special education costs that exceed the budgeted appropriation.
As district administrators work to eliminate the present projected budget deficit, one board member, with approval from his colleagues, is pushing for better communication between the Board of Education and the Board of Aldermen regarding the school budget.
Board member David Gioiello proposed two motions — first, that the Board of Education provide a copy of its final approved budget, after the entire city budget is passed, to the Board of Aldermen; and second, that the Board of Education’s Finance Committee meet quarterly with the Board of Aldermen to review the status of the school budget — and both were unanimously approved by board members.
Gioiello said that these motions came after a lengthy discussion with Board of Aldermen President John Anglace about a month ago, prior to the release of the auditor’s report.
“After the city approves the budget, we get our approved budget from the city, [Board of Aldermen members] never see the changes that we make to our budget after we receive our final numbers,” said Gioiello. “I feel that it will be helpful to let the city know how we spend the money after the final approval.”
Communication between two the boards is virtually none existent, said Gioiello, and both adopted motions are intended to be a positive step toward improving that communication with the Board of Aldermen.
“If they don’t look at what we send them, we can’t force them,” said Gioiello. “Same thing with the second motion. If they decide not to attend the meeting, there is nothing we can do. But the burden will be on them to at least meet us half way.”
“I think what you’re looking at is for us to take an additional step to help ensure things [are made] as clear as possible for them. I personally feel that is a terrific idea,” said board Chairman Mark Holden.
Gioiello said this would be a separate meeting, open to the public, that is an attempt to open lines of communication so the aldermen “understand the complexity of what we face when we move money around in order to properly fund different line items.
“This would be so they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing,” added Gioiello.