The Board of Education (BOE) has passed a budget with just under a 5% spending increase, which is less than what appeared likely a few weeks earlier.
The BOE was able to lower the expected increase in healthcare costs by $400,000, and also is estimating five teachers will retire and be replaced by lower-paying teachers, saving at least another $100,000.
In addition, two custodial staff members should retire and only one of the positions will be filled.
A few weeks ago, it appeared the BOE could request a 6.4% increase. School Supt. Freeman Burr said while 5% may not be as low as some BOE members had wanted, it represents a “significant” decrease from the earlier amount.
‘A very lean requst’
BOE Chairman Mark Holden called it “a very lean budget request.”
Holden said the rollover budget — or what it would cost to provide the same level of services, adjusted for salary increases and other higher costs — add up to a 3.6% increase.
“What’s not in the rollover falls primarily in the category of mandates,” he said, such as special education and the need to implement the new state-required teacher evaluations.
Holden said it’s important the BOE budget request isn’t “viewed as excessive by the general public.”
The current BOE budget is $68.6 million, including $791,000 provided in the city budget, and the BOE’s request for fiscal year 2015-16 is $72 million. That’s an increase of $3.4 million, or 4.97%.
Special education is ‘big ticket item’
The largest factors in the increase are salaries (up $1.6 million), special education (up $732,000), and employee benefits (up $400,000).
Special education costs are being impacted by more students requiring such services and the district’s attempt to offer more of these services in-house, which should reduce costly out-of-district placements. The new budget includes some new special education teaching positions.
“The big ticket item this year is special education,” said Burr, noting special education enrollment during the current school year is up by 22 students. About 15% of students in the Shelton public schools are classified as needing special education.
The budget request includes about $952,000 for improvements, such as 1.5 new information technology positions, a new guidance counselor, a new library media specialist at Shelton High, two new math tutors, and math specialists (paid mostly with ongoing grant money).
The district plans to pay teaching interns at every school as a way to save money on substitutes, and will use retired teachers and administrators through two statewide education organizations to help with teacher evaluations rather than hiring any new assistant principals.
Holden said the district’s central office staff has found creative, efficient ways to get things done while holding down costs.
Declining enrollment at the elementary level will lead to a few less teaching positions in the lower grades.
No feedback at public hearing
The BOE held a public hearing on its budget last week before voting to approve it Feb. 10. No one from the public spoke at the hearing, which led BOE member Arlene Liscinsky to later ask her fellow members and staff whether they are getting any feedback on the budget request.
Last year’s education budget received a lot of attention due to the push for full-day kindergarten, which was approved and then implemented at the start of the current school year.
The education budget request now moves on to Mayor Mark Lauretti, who will release his proposed 2015-16 municipal budget in March.
The Board of Apportionment and Taxation, and the Board of Aldermen can make changes during the process, with the budget being finalized in May. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
Liscinsky said BOE members have an obligation to speak up for the school spending request during budget season, which she called “a very long process.”
“We have to be optimistic,” said BOE member Kathy Yolish.
The BOE also expects to ask the city to finance some technology improvements outside the operating budget, which primarily would be used to improve servers and failing wi-fi systems. A state grant could help pay for some of these expenses.
The BOE also has approved a six-year capital plan that covers funding for major infrastructure projects. The capital plan provides guidance on what projects might need to be pursued and financed.
The top priority is replacing the roof at Sunnyside School, which now leaks.
In a related note, Burr said Long Hill School parents are concerned security upgrades at that elementary school may not include a new entrance that extends out of the building, partly due to the current location of the main office.