Shelton budget process: Will full-day kindergarten happen? Will pay-to-play end?

Louis J. Dagostine
Louis J. Dagostine

The Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T) has voted to provide most of the funds requested in a Board of Education (BOE) alternative budget request that may allow for the implementation of full-day kindergarten and elimination of pay-to-play fees.

A&T members have decided to tap into the city’s surplus funds — or what they called the “unassigned fund account” — for most of the needed money.

Based on action at an April 28 meeting, the BOE would receive about $621,000 of the $745,000 in new money it asked for in its toned-down budget request.

The alternative budget represented a reduced request from the BOE’s original proposed budget, but is higher than what Mayor Mark Lauretti had recommended.

BOE seeks more than mayor proposed

The BOE has said it needed a minimum of $745,000 on top of Lauretti’s recommendation to start full-day K, eliminate pay-to-play, and meet rising special education costs. As part of that package, it also wanted the city to assume the expense of buying propane for school buses.

Based on the A&T vote, the BOE allocation would increase by $2.6 million — or 4% — to $68.2 million when compared to the current budget.

A&T members also said their approved budget would not require a tax hike. Lauretti’s budget also did not raise taxes.

A&T chairman: 'We did pretty good'

“We did pretty good,” A&T Chairman Charlotte Madar said after the meeting. “I think both sides came to a good conclusion — and were able to do it while leaving a good tax situation.”

Madar said the increase given to the BOE seems adequate. “I think it’s an awful lot of money,” she said.

The proposed budget next moves to the Board of Aldermen, which will hold a public hearing on it within the next few weeks before taking a vote. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Full-day K funds are ‘money well spent’

The 5-0 vote by A&T came after more than an hour of discussion, with member Louis J. Dagostine pushing for much of the meeting to provide the full $745,000 to the BOE.

The board’s sixth member, “Jay” Zikaras, was absent.

“We’re not giving the BOE even close to what they want,” said Dagostine, who earlier described any funds provided for full-day K as “money well spent.”

He said the budget’s goal should be to have no tax increase while also meeting the BOE’s needs on full-day K, pay-to-play and special education.

Dagostine said while “ideally we wouldn’t need to touch the surplus,” city Finance Director Paul Hiller indicated there is $11.7 million in the surplus account, “so that’s one source to look at.”

Another possibility would be to cut services on the city side, he said, but this would be difficult because some departments never sent representatives to A&T meetings to explain their budgets.

Madar said if the aldermen don’t want to use as much of the surplus as recommended by A&T, they will have to “find the money elsewhere.”

Member Joseph Knapik said the “paramount” issue was funding full-day K.

Pay-to-play is unpopular

Members agreed that pay-to-play was a bad idea and should be eliminated. “I don’t like that pay-to-play,” member Joseph Palmucci said.

Member John Belden Jr. said the fees impact families of middle school students as well as high school students, and as a parent he had to pay $300 this year for track — a sport that appears to have few major expenses associated with it.

Members also said they think starting full-day K should lower costs in the future because fewer students will require remedial work as they progress through the system.

Madar said the BOE doesn’t appear to have planned fiscally for full-day K. “They saw all-day kindergarten coming down the pike and didn’t adjust much to accommodate it,” she said.

She was pleased the BOE’s alternative budget had reduced $750,000 in new spending, mostly for new positions such as an assistant principal, 1.5 media specialists, a custodian, an HVAC specialist, an IT worker, and an accountant.

Finding the additional funds

A&T would come up with the additional funds from Lauretti’s recommendation by tapping into the surplus for the $406,000 that the BOE says it needs for full-day kindergarten, and giving $245,000 from the “Youth Programs” line item on the city side of the budget to the BOE.

The $245,000 should be enough to enable the BOE to stop the pay-to-participate fees now required from students to play sports and participate in many clubs.

In recent years, most of the money in the Youth Programs budget has gone unspent. Re-allocating $245,000 of that budget would still leave $30,000 in the account for the next fiscal year.

In addition, A&T supported moving the BOE’s $226,000 cost of propane to the city side of the budget. The city would pay for the $226,000 in propane with surplus funds, meaning that overall A&T wants to use $642,000 in surplus money to pay for additional expenses.

The $226,000 allocation is unlikely to be enough to cover propane for the next school year, based on what will be spent this year.

A&T also voted to put $200,000 for full-day K furniture and related supplies into the city side’s capital budget.