Yolish: BOE must cut $2.9M under mayor’s plan

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Kathy Yolish was reappointed chairwoman of the Board of Education during its meeting Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Kathy Yolish was reappointed chairwoman of the Board of Education during its meeting Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Brian Gioiele / Hearst Connecticut Media

The Board of Education must find $2.9 million in budget cuts if Mayor Mark Lauretti’s proposed “flat-funded” city budget earns final aldermen approval.

Lauretti, in a joint virtual meeting with the Board of Aldermen and Board of Apportionment & Taxation on April 21, proposed a budget of $128,182,039, a $610,565 increase from the present year’s budget, which maintains the present 22.42 mill rate.

“There will not be any increases in budgets,” said Lauretti. “I am presenting a budget designed to maintain current levels of city services and without causing a major adverse financial impact on our citizens’ households.”

The Board of Education had proposed a $75,083,945 budget — an increase of $2,318,945, or 3.19 percent. The school budget request maintains present services with money set aside for a new pre-K teacher and curriculum writing.

“I understand the financial challenges that are facing every community and Shelton is no exception,” said Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish after the mayor’s budget presentation.

“With the announcement of a flatlined budget affecting every city department, the impact of alternative economic scenarios for our Board of Education will be both challenging and very discouraging, to say the least,” added Yolish.

Interim school Superintendent Beth Smith said the mayor’s budget proposal “will present great challenges to the district.”

The board chair said that, according to school Finance Director Rick Belden, the board will need to find at least $2.9 million in cuts from the proposed 2020-21 fiscal year budget, in which the majority of the budgeted funds were to maintain present services.

There is a Board of Education Finance Committee virtual meeting set for Tuesday, April 28, at 5 p.m. At that meeting, Yolish said she will ask for a special Board of Education virtual meeting on Thursday, April 30, to “begin the discussion and look for suggestions to make up the loss we will be incurring.

“We are aware that the majority of our budget is comprised of salaries and benefits,” said Yolish. “I am hopeful that the city tax revenues will not be as severely impacted as mentioned and that the mayor will work with the board to provide additional funding to reinstate the positions and items that we may have to eliminate.”

Lauretti is dropping the anticipated tax collection rate to 98 percent and reducing the revenue estimate on motor vehicles by $200,000, creating a “significant drop in cash” which will “certainly impact the ability to pay bills for vital services.

“To add insult to injury,” added Lauretti, “the city’s fund balance has been depleted to almost zero due to the fact that for two consecutive years of overspending by the Board of Education resulted in a lawsuit and leaving the city with no cash reserves.”

Former Board of Education Chair Mark Holden, part of the lawsuit in question, decried the mayor’s comments.

“The mayor’s assertion the BoE overspent its budget two years in a row is a barefaced lie,” said Holden after the budget presentation. “The state Board of Education provided a letter to the mayor before he filed the lawsuit explaining the Special Education Excess Cost grant is a reimbursement grant, and since we’d used the funds as required by law, we were entitled to them.”

Prior to Lauretti’s budget presentation, the Board of Aldermen approved the new budget calendar, which does not include a public hearing as in years past. The Board of A&T must submit a recommended budget to the Board of Aldermen by June 1. The aldermen will complete its review by June 14, with an adoption of the budget no later than June 30.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace, Jr., said, with the coronavirus pandemic preventing any public gatherings, at least through May 20, the aldermen will be accepting emailed public comment to the city’s website.