School superintendent says budget gap should be ‘workable’

School Supt. Freeman Burr said Mayor Mark Lauretti’s proposed allocation for the Board of Education (BOE) appears to leave almost a half-million-dollar gap to make up for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

While not ideal, he described the situation as “workable,” especially if a new bus service contract comes in at a favorable rate.

Also, the superintendent said, BOE members and administrators will continue to look for ways to lower costs. “We’ll work on our end — and see where any opportunities are,” he said.

Burr said school and city officials are more in sync with each other when it comes to funding issues during this budget cycle. “We definitely appreciate the collaboration with the mayor and the aldermen,” he said.

The BOE has received much smaller budget increases in the past few years than what Lauretti has proposed for the next fiscal year.

Burr, like Lauretti, also noted the municipal budget process won’t be finalized for awhile. “We still have several months to go,” he said.

Initial difference of $1.4 million

The current education budget is $63.7 million, and Lauretti has proposed giving the school district $1.7 million of the $3.1 million increase it requested — leaving an initial $1.4 million difference.

However, the new bus contract could provide savings in the $1 million range, which would leave a hole in the $400,000 range.

When including the possible bus contract savings, Burr said, “we’re about 85% there. We have about a 15% gap.”

The BOE’s budget proposal also counts on about $400,000 in lower employee healthcare costs that have not been finalized yet, and about $180,000 in fuel savings cost due to the use of new propane-powered buses vs. the traditional ones that use diesel.

Picking a bus service contractor

BOE officials expect to meet with contractors on the new bus contract this week. The city government will purchase propane-powered buses for the school system to use, so now the BOE only needs to hire a company for a “third-party service contract” to operate the buses. The contract usually involves having the vendor supply the buses as well.

It therefore is anticipated the cost of the BOE bus contract will be much lower than in past years, with possible savings in the $1 million range annually.

Burr said seven contractors have shown an interest in the bus service contract, and that number will be reduced to three or four finalists after the meetings this week. The goal is to make a selection by April 15, partly because limited bus service will need to be provided for summer school sessions soon after the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

The city also has exempted the BOE from having to go through a formal bidding process to pick the bus service contractor.

Lauretti’s overall plan

Lauretti released his proposed 2013-14 budget last week, calling for a $115.49 million budget — including both the city and school sides — that would decrease taxes by 0.5%.

The city’s current budget is $115.55 million, so the mayor’s proposal would reduce overall spending by about $64,000 on a year-to-year basis despite the higher BOE allocation.

Also, by having the city purchase the school buses, some of the school-related transportation costs essentially shift to the city side of the budget from the school side.

Impact of sequestration

Burr also said he is concerned about the impact of the federal sequestration on the school budget.

He said the sequestration — the automatic spending cuts put into effect to reduce the federal deficit — could delay the release of some federal funds to Shelton for special education and student meal subsidies.