Shelton BOE eyes less than 3% budget hike

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — School administrators are working to propose a budget with less than a 3 percent increase from the present fiscal year, according to Superintendent Ken Saranich.

Saranich presented his initial budget to the Board of Education during its workshop Monday. The proposed $75.3 million budget is a $2.6 million increase — or 3.54 percent — from the 2020-21 allocations.

The main drivers are increases in certified staff salaries ($972,774 increase, based on contractual agreements), software management systems ($71,756 increase), Chromebook purchases ($404,382 increase) and magnet school tuition fees ($418,490 increase). The instructional materials section calls for a 22.51 percent hike, with increases in instructional software ($119,968) and curricular support materials ($51,023).

“This is a reasonable recommendation to present to the city to open discussions,” Saranich said, before stating his administrative team, with guidance from the board members, would look at ways to bring the percent hike below 3 percent.

One area of cost cutting could come by moving the Chromebook purchases to the capital requests. That alone would drop the education budget percent increase to 2.98 percent. Saranich said the district is also hoping grants will become available that could help cut costs.

Board member Diana Meyer asked if costs associated to security software purchases could be moved to the city side of the budget, since both the city and schools would need such security software.

“I am confident we can find more cost savings. ... We can redistribute staff to meet the needs of students,” Saranich said, adding that it is essential the district at least maintain present services.

Administrators opened the budget workshops two weeks ago, informing the board that simply maintaining current school district services with the required contractual increases next fiscal year would still require a nearly $2 million budget increase.

School Finance Director Rick Belden, at that meeting, presented a 2021-22 fiscal year budget with no additions to the BOE during its first budget workshop on Tuesday. The result, according to Belden, would still mean a $1,812,596 jump from the present fiscal year.

The school budget has stood at $72,765,000 for the past two years, the result each year being reductions in staff and services to meet the figure. By maintaining the present staff and services, Belden said the budget would increase to $74,577,596.

Since that presentation, Saranich said nearly $800,000 in necessary costs have arisen, such as required increases for tuition for magnet schools, retirement benefits including an additional $50,000 needed to cover the board’s settlement with Athletic Director John Niski, and software management services.

“Just to meet what we have now, we are looking at a 2.49 percent increase,” Saranich has stated. “That said, if the board asked to add staff or services, that number goes up. If we get less than 2.49 percent, it will be like back in May, and we will have to come back and determine what cuts need to be made from current staff and services.

“There is a number we have to meet contractually,” he said.