Shelton BOE sends off school budget with 2.98% hike

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — School officials are seeking a 2.98 percent budget increase for the coming fiscal year.

The Board of Education took a consensus of all members Monday at its latest workshop and decided that a $74,933,060 spending plan, a $2,168,068 hike from the current budget, would at least maintain present services and staff.

The proposal is expected to be submitted to the mayor’s office by Friday.

“This is a level service proposal,” said schools Superintendent Chris Clouet.

“This is a placeholder,” said board Vice Chair James Orazietti, “so we can remain in compliance with the city charter.”

City charter calls for the education budget to be submitted to the mayor’s office by Feb. 15. Board Chair Kathy Yolish said Mayor Mark Lauretti agreed to grant the Board of Education an extension to Feb. 24 for submission, but the board chosen to act Feb. 10.

“I want to thank the mayor and the Board of Aldermen for the opportunity they extended to us,” said Orazietti. “There are still many categories to be discussed (in the budget). This is an estimated consensus budget with amendments to follow in the coming weeks.”

“Everyone wants the highest amount of dollars for our educational programs but no budget will make everyone happy,” said Yolish. “However, we are confident that those in authority who will make the final decision on the dollars given will know that we have worked diligently to present a fiscally responsible and reasonable budget that will keep our school system moving forward.”

The board has tentatively scheduled a formal vote on its budget on Feb. 19 after its finance committee meeting at the administration offices.

The 2020-21 budget proposal, as it presently stands, builds in $700,000 that administrators and board members said they hope to have shifted to the city side of the budget. The funds are for technology purchases, other capital items and curriculum materials.

“I think the Board of Aldermen and the mayor are ready to work with us,” said Orazietti. “My goal is to change the perception. I feel we get the best bang for our buck here … that’s because we have a great team here in Shelton.”

Board member Kate Kutash said that the board should come forward with a larger number knowing that the education budget request will be reduced as it moves through the mayor’s office and Board of Aldermen.

“I’m scared,” said Kutash. “I don’t feel that this is helping our kids.”

Clouet presented budget options with increases of 2 percent, 2.5 percent and 2.98 percent. The 2 percent budget comes with an increase of $1,455,300; the 2.5 percent spending plan would include a $1,819,125 increase.

“We would recommend the level funding approach,” said Clouet about the 2.98 percent increase. “It’s not ideal, but if you decide to choose the 2.5 percent or 2 percent increase, there would need to be cuts associated with those choices.”

Contractual salary, benefits, professional services and utility increases are the primary drivers of the increase, Clouet said. Pay for certified staff would increase $1.25 million to $39.89 million; pay for non-certified salaries show a $285,228 increase to $9.41 million; employee benefits would go up $432,494 to $11.37 million; professional services would increase $696,852 to $1.85 million; and utilities would be $94,001 higher to $1.95 million.

“(This) was an overview session which included a look at what ‘level services’ would cost,” said Clouet. “It was not a proposal or a recommended budget.”

School Finance Director Rick Belden said the numbers presented Tuesday “include contractual increases for salaries and estimated and projected increases for other areas.”

At this point, Belden said, some savings could be seen in the special education tuition account, but he was quick to note that the number is always in flux since new special education students could move in or out of the district at any time.

“The superintendent’s leadership team and school administrators have been working diligently on the numbers necessary to keep our schools working effectively and efficiently,” said Yolish. “Our board members will be spending several nights this month analyzing and looking for ways to bring in a budget that is fair and fiscally responsible.

“Be assured, all of us are on the same page when it comes to kids and education,” she said.

This request mirrors last fiscal year, during which the board — made up of some members who had a more contentious relationship with the mayor’s office and Board of Aldermen — sought a 2.99 percent hike from the $72,765,000 school budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Lauretti recommended no increase, but in the end, the aldermen approved a budget with funds for a school psychologist.