Public hearing on school budget is Feb. 4; May ask for 6.4% increase

The public is invited to share their feelings on a new school budget during a public hearing set for Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. in the Shelton Intermediate School auditorium.

The Board of Education (BOE) is now working to finalize a budget for upcoming fiscal year 2014-15, which should be approved by the BOE in the course of the next week.

That education budget request then will become part of the budget process involving Mayor Mark Lauretti, the Board of Aldermen, and the Board of Apportionment and Taxation.

Based on discussion at its most recent BOE meeting on Jan. 26, school board members are prepared to pass a budget with a 6.4% spending increase.

That amount is higher than what had been previously discussed, when the increase was in the range of 5%.

Shelton Intermediate School, where the hearing will take place, is at 675 Constitution Boulevard North.

Set a number to meet?

Mark Holden, BOE chairman, expressed some concerns about the amount of the increase while saying he certainly believes all the expenses could be justified from an educational standpoint.

“I don’t think we have a prayer of having it approved with the kind of numbers we’re talking about,” Holden told his fellow board members.

He urged members to set a spending increase goal — perhaps from 4.5% to 4.75%, he suggested — and then figure out what requests to cut to reach that goal.

Or do ‘what we truly believe’?

Some other members, however, said the goal should be to approve a budget that would meet the needs of the community. “Do we put forward what we truly believe?” asked BOE member Arlene Liscinsky.

Liscinsky said establishing a budget increase percentage to meet, and then cutting expenses to do so, is “putting the cart before the horse.”

She said the school district had received budget increases close to zero a few years ago so now they are “playing catch-up,” and even if the request is perceived as high the reality is that “difficult decisions” will have to be made because there are never enough resources.

Holden said he would respect — and advocate for — whatever consensus was reached by  board members. “I’ll support whatever the overall board does,” he said.

Reasons for the increase

Factors in the expected school budget increase include higher costs for employee salaries, benefits, special education and transportation, plus the need to implement a state-mandated teacher evaluation process.

“Just about everything is going up,” School Supt. Freeman Burr said.

The BOE has decided not to pursue some large-ticket items, such as $600,000 to create four assistant principal positions spread among many of the schools. Members think the additional administrators are needed to help with the new teacher evaluation process, but will instead try a more cost-effective approach.

The BOE plans to allocate $60,000 and use a combination of retired teachers through a statewide organization, current teacher leaders, and interns and to divide up administrative tasks and the teacher evaluations. The evaluations can only be completed by individuals with certain certification, so the interns would focus on other areas.