Shelton schools enjoy $800K surplus, for now

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 — The school district has a projected $800,000 surplus through its 2020-21 budget, but the finance director warns this could be temporary.

The surplus — primarily from underspending in the certified and non-certified staff accounts — could disappear with uncertain future costs from health insurance, the nutrition services program and a pending lawsuit against the Board of Education, School Finance Director Rick Belden said during a Thursday meeting.

With six months remaining, Belden said the employee benefits accounts are currently $155,834 more than budgeted.

Belden’s December financial report, which was presented to the Board of Education Finance Committee on Thursday, states the district’s “health insurance is starting to trend higher than budget and the total year projection of an unfavorable budget variance of $284,909 reflects this monthly trend activity.”

Another major unknown, according to Belden, is the Bridgeport Board of Education’s lawsuit against the Shelton BOE.

Bridgeport is seeking back tuition for Shelton students who attended Fairchild Wheeler and Discovery magnet schools in 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20, as well as $228,000 for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Belden said no tuition amounts for these magnet schools were budgeted prior to 2020-21.

Belden said the city’s corporation counsel is handling the suit, and, since no agreement has been reached, no money is allocated for any potential settlement at this point.

The Shelton BOE has added $228,000 for this tuition cost in its proposed 2021-22 fiscal year budget. A vote is expected on Superintendent Ken Saranich’s budget proposal on Tuesday.

The next unknown is the district’s nutrition services program. Through December, Belden said the program, which is operated by Whitson Food Services, has a deficit of $191,486 even after Whitson’s agreed upon contribution to aid in mitigating the deficit.

“This deficit is due primarily to the COVID-related school hybrid schedule and school closures,” Belden stated in his report. “A limited survey of programs in other school districts indicates that they are also experiencing various levels of deficit.”

The BOE may also have another $165,000 to spend on necessary items.

The Board of Aldermen, in a meeting last summer, approved allowing the school board to spend $165,000 through aldermanic bonding on purchase and installation of air hand dryers in the school bathrooms.

During the pandemic, the CDC stated that such hand dryers should not be used, leaving the school district to not move forward with the purchase. BOE Vice Chair James Orazietti asked that Saranich prepare a letter to the aldermen asking if the they could use that money for other necessary purchases.

“We should let (the aldermen) know what has happened and let them know we want to use the money for other things,” Orazietti said. “That is the transparent way to do things. We just want to keep the lines of communication with the city open.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com