School Supt. Freeman Burr said he plans to meet with Mayor Mark Lauretti next week to go over the Board of Education’s (BOE) request for a budget with an almost 5.4% spending increase for the upcoming fiscal year.
“It will be a professional and respectful discussion,” Burr told about 60 people at the second public informational meeting on full-day kindergarten Thursday night at Shelton Intermediate School.
Burr brought up his upcoming session with Lauretti to let the audience know the two officials have a good working relationship, despite the tension that sometimes exists between the city and education sides of government — especially when it comes to spending.
“Contrary to popular belief, Mayor Lauretti and I do communicate regularly,” Burr said.
One of his goals in the budget discussions with the mayor, Burr said, will be to advocate for full-day kindergarten. He said he hopes they can find “common ground to bring full-day kindergarten to fruition.”
What starting full-day K will cost
Last night’s informational meeting — the second of two to take place — was designed to promote the educational benefits of offering a full-day K program in the next school year, which would cost about $950,000 in the first year.
Of that amount, the BOE would provide about $370,000 from its operating budget (that figure has been revised down from $450,000 by the BOE, due to what officials said was an earlier calculation error). The remaining amount would be covered by reallocating teachers from other elementary grades and by capital bonding for furniture and equipment on the city side of government.
Burr said while the school board is asking for “a significant amount” with its 5.4% budget increase, many of the rising costs are “obligated” because they involve negotiated employee salary increases, employee benefits and transportation.
Mayor: School request seems high
Lauretti has indicated he thinks the BOE’s new budget request may be too high, but said Wednesday he hasn’t had time to study it in detail since the request was only formally presented to him late last week.
Lauretti also has said he wants to be certain any money given to the BOE with the intention to implement full-day kindergarten is, in fact, spent on that program.
State law only allows the municipal side of government to set an overall amount for the education budget. City officials have no control over line items in the education budget and cannot tell the BOE how to spend its allocation.
BOE request may be reduced
It is common in most towns for a school board’s spending request to be reduced by other municipal officials during the budget process. That happens almost every year in Shelton.
This year, with the BOE and some parents pushing to implement full-day K in the upcoming fiscal year, any reduction may be seen as an attempt to undercut full-day K.
Lauretti will release his budget proposal in mid-March, and education officials said the amount that the mayor proposes for school spending will be an indication of whether full-day K will become a reality.
Once the mayor releases his recommended budget, it will be voted on by two entities — the city Board of Apportionment and Taxation (BAT&T), and the Board of Aldermen.
How handle a reduced budget?
During the meeting, one parent asked what the BOE would do to implement full-day K if the school board’s spending request is reduced during the budget process.
BOE Chairman Mark Holden said school officials “will come up with the best plan to utilize those funds,” and hopefully that will include full-day kindergarten.
“If we can make full-day kindergarten happen, we will make it happen,” Holden said.
Holden said one of the reasons the new three-year teacher contract has a smaller increase in the next fiscal year was to help with the start-up costs of full-day K.
Teachers will receive annual salary increases of 2.75%, 3% and 3.25% over the next three fiscal years, but did make some concessions on instructional time and healthcare insurance as part of the agreement.
Holden: Funds to be spent as intended
Holden said Lauretti, BAT&T members and the aldermen shouldn’t be concerned that the BOE will reallocate money meant to begin full-day K to other purposes.
He said funds intended for full-day kindergarten will be spent on that program. “If we don’t [do that], we’re going to look like idiots,” Holden said.