SHELTON — School officials' budget request calls for hiring a new teacher while administrators push to bring the district’s pre-K program into compliance.

The Board of Education, at a special meeting March 11, voted unanimously to approve a $75,083,945 budget — an increase of $2,318,945, or 3.19 percent — for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The request, to be forwarded to the city, maintains all present services and an additional $90,000 for curriculum writing. In its final vote, the Board of Education unanimously agreed to eliminate the tuition fee for the pre-K program.

“I am pleased with the budget that was passed with a 9-0 vote by the Board of Education,” said interim Superintendent Beth Smith. “It allows us to address some of the issues with our pre-K program and to move the district forward with work on curriculum development.”

The city charter required the school budget be submitted by Feb. 15, so the board submitted a “consensus” budget of $74,933,068, a 2.98 percent increase, before the deadline in order to continue deliberations on the final budget request. The new figure will now go to Mayor Mark Lauretti, who will make his budget presentation later this month.

“So proud that we were able to work together as a team,” said board Chair Kathy Yolish.

There have been some contentious debates since the new board, with six new members and new leadership, was seated after the November election. But completion of the final vote was met with cheers and applause from the board members as well as those in attendance at the meeting.

“The budget agreement was a bipartisan effort that began a week ago when one party from each side of the table met to collate what we both wanted to see added to the budget request,” said board member Kate Kutash.

“I moved approval and Carl Rizzo, a Republican, seconded the motion, making it truly a bipartisan effort,” added Kutash. “All nine of us were quite happy to have a unanimous vote.”

The majority of the approved budget request allows the district to maintain present services, according to interim Superintendent Beth Smith.

Hiring one teacher - at $60,877 - and the elimination of tuition fees are the latest steps by the district to bring the “typical peer” pre-K program back into state compliance. The “typical peer” program calls for an even split between students with special needs and those without. But this year’s program presently has 69 students total, 58 of whom have special needs.

Next year, officials said, as many as 65 special needs students will be eligible for the program. In order to meet Connecticut Early Learning Development Standards, the district must be ready to handle an estimated 130 students total.

“The pre-K tuition that we had been charging ended up not realizing much income and instead hurt the program,” said Kutash. “Hopefully with elimination of a fee, we can start to attract more typical peers to even out the program.”

Board Democrats had submitted a list of recommendations that would have added $1,068,634 on top of the $74,933,068 consensus number. The Democrat request included adding more teachers, but Smith said only one was required, with other hires coming after crunching the numbers in the coming months.

“All of us on the Democratic side wanted to see more added than we ultimately approved. However, Dr. Smith's rationale for dealing with some of the things that were not included seemed realistic,” said Kutash. “We will remain vigilant as we move forward to see how we can deal with adding those multiple staff positions once we see how much we are awarded from the city."

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com