Shelton BOE budget: Everything on table for possible cuts

While a final city budget approval remains weeks away, school officials are not wasting time preparing for what could be “painful” cuts.
The Board of Education spent a good portion of its meeting Wednesday, April 3, talking generally about what areas — from personnel to equipment, textbooks to sports programs — that could face cuts as well as what actions could be taken to save every dollar possible in the face of a flat-funded 2019-20 budget.
Mayor Mark Lauretti’s proposed budget stands at $127,569,660 — which, if approved, would hike the mill rate to 22.62, a 2.12% increase from this past year, the first tax jump in the city for some 10 years. And that budget keeps the Board of Education flat-funded at $72,700,000, some $2.17 million less than what school officials had requested.
The mayor’s budget is now in the hands of the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Apportionment & Taxation (A&T), which is presently deliberating the proposal, and a final vote would not come until next month. The Board of Education is presenting its proposal — seeking $74,873,729, a 2.99% increase from this past year — to A&T on Wednesday, April 10 (too late for coverage in print, visit for details).
While nothing is final, school board members agreed that being prepared for the worst would be best for the district, and those discussions began at the April 3 meeting.
“Cutting $2.17 million is going to be really painful, and we don’t want to do it all in personnel,” said Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden. “Our teachers and our administrators are the most valuable resource we have in this city, so we have to best we can to preserve our best assets.”
The Board of Education’s request, with a 2.99% budget hike, still called for the elimination of more than 14 teachers and one administrator, which means, according to some board members, more personnel cuts are inevitable.
School Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said he often hears that more cuts are needed, but he noted that when he first started in Shelton in 2016, there were 421 teachers, compared to 412 today; three special education supervisors, compared to two today; along with several cuts in clerical staff.
“And we had already proposed a reduction of teachers and an additional administrator in the upcoming budget process,” said Clouet. “So the idea that we are not making cuts is not the case. The reason we are here is to talk about priorities ... what kind of cuts can we make and still maintain the integrity and quality of the programs we offer.”
Holden said the administration is attempting to find savings in the medical insurance.
“We need to look at (medical coverage) like they do in the business would,” said Holden. “We need to find the best coverage that we can for the best price. That might be a way to get significant savings.”
Clouet wrote, in a letter to the Board of Aldermen, that he requested the city provide some $700,000 to cover purchases of “necessary” new textbooks and technology — meaning those budget numbers could be removed from the Board of Education allocation.
School Finance Director Rick Belden said his office will more closely examine potential savings in areas such as special education student transportation, heat and utilities, and after-school use of the buildings to see what cost savings could be generated by making changes.
“We can also look at, in general, the dreaded reduction of elimination of sports teams or programs,” said Belden, adding that no one likes discussing this, “but when you are talking about laying off teachers and administrators, cutting supplies, this needs to be looked at — both in terms of personnel, transportation costs and cost of supplies. This needs to be on the table.”
During its budget deliberations, school administrators stated that just remaining at current service levels would increase the 2019-20 operating budget to an estimated $75,590,802, a $2,890,802, or 3.98%, increase. The requests from the program directors and principals would add an additional $2,221,969, or 3.06% hike, on top of the number just to maintain present operating standards. In all, if Clouet and the Board of Education came forward with that total number, the request to the mayor's office and Board of Aldermen would call for a school budget increase of some 7% over last fiscal year.
With more than 80% of the overall budget allotted for salaries and benefits, Clouet said the most efficient way to reduce the increase was the removal of 14.5 full-time teachers, which equates to $1,160,000 in reduced cost under certified salaries.
Another $1,155,783 in reductions come from the court-ordered settlement between the city and Board of Education over bus transportation. The city will take over operation of the student transportation beginning with the next school year, and at an agreed upon cost of $3.15 million, a significant drop from the $4.3-million deal with Durham during the present school year.
Two other areas of reductions could come in recommended purchases of textbooks and computer equipment. Clouet budgeted $338,632 for textbook purchases and $353,585 for computer equipment, but the administration has requested that the city purchase those items.