Preliminary school district budget increases 6.8%

Superintendent Freeman Burr presented a preliminary budget to the Board of Education last week that represents a more than 6% increase over this year’s district budget.

Burr presented a preliminary budget to the Board of Education last week, saying that the district is faced with some challenges this budget season. The budget totals $68,118, 274, which is a $4,381,647, or 6.87%, increase from the current year’s budget.

The superintendent requested $765,189 for a few new positions, technology and supplies. The rest of the increase can largely be attributed to contracted salary increases, benefits and $500,000 for transportation.

There hasn’t been much change to the schools budget in the last three years, Burr said. When he started as superintendent, the budget was about $63 million, and this year the budget is $63.7 million. But this year, a number of factors are leading to more significant increases.

“My concern is there is not a lot of places to go,” Burr told The Herald recently.

About $1.3 million is going to contracted salary increases for teachers, and $340,000 is for non-certified staff like custodians, secretaries, nurses, and paraprofessionals.

Benefits are projected to increase by about $1.2 million, with about $350,000 in retirement costs, $82,000 for Social Security and Medicare and $800,000 in medical insurance increases. Medical insurance is difficult to predict at this point, Burr said, and they hope to find a way to bring the projected increase down.

“The initial quote we got was 18%,” Burr said.

But the district is looking at alternatives, including a new state medical insurance plan.

“Eighteen percent is just unacceptable,” Burr said. “We’re still looking, and we won’t jump into the Connecticut Partnership, but if I’m between 18% and 11%, and a vendor comes in at 7% or 8%, it’s a no-brainer.”

The district went out to bid on a new transportation contract but has yet to choose a vendor. The new contract is projected to cost an additional $500,000 in the new year. The mayor has talked to the schools about the possibility of buying buses and leasing them back to a vendor, in order to save money over time, but that idea is still in discussion.

“Transportation in this day and age is expensive,” Burr said. “We are going to explore a couple of alternative ideas to see if we can bring that down.”

New additions

The district’s special education department has requested a teacher and tutor to help improve the program. Improvements to the program could potentially keep students in-district, rather than paying to send them out of district for education.

Among some of the other staff recommendations is one tutor for Shelton Intermediate School and a tutor and media specialist at Booth Hill. At Shelton High School, Burr has recommended adding one science teacher, one technology teacher, a part-time physical education teacher, and a part-time French teacher. The total cost of new staff would be $210,492.

The superintendent has also asked for $270,300 for technology and $138,141 for supplies.

Board member Win Oppel said he would like to see the proposed budget increase be under 6%.

Board member Arlene Liscinsky worried about educating parents and the public about this year’s budget and some of the challenges the board faces.

“How do we get the message out to the public,” she wondered.

Burr said he was meeting with school parent groups and would be putting budget information on sheltonpublicschools.org.

The board has yet to vote on a proposed budget to send to the Board of Apportionment and Taxation, the mayor and the Board of Aldermen. Mayor Mark Lauretti typically makes his budget presentation in February, then it is vetted by the tax board and finally by the aldermen.

Burr said he hopes that district improvement will be considered during budget deliberations.

“One thing the Board of Education can stand on is our performance over the last few years and the quality of teaching and learning,” Burr said. “Teachers and administrators have shown progressive growth — I think that has to be recognized.”

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