Shelton schools propose using expected budget surplus money to prevent staff cuts

Superintendent of Schools Ken Saranich.

Superintendent of Schools Ken Saranich.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — Using surplus money from this year’s budget is key in preventing any staff cuts next year, according to Superintendent Ken Saranich.

The Board of Education, at a special meeting this week, approved Saranich’s plan to use $465,644 of what, at this point, is a projected $1.1 million surplus in the 2020-21 education budget to cover materials and supplies originally budgeted in the 2021-22 school budget.

“After last night’s vote, I am confident we will make salaries for next year,” Saranich told Hearst Connecticut Media.

The Board of Education had sought a $74.9 million budget that maintained present staff and programs, but without at least $1.1 million more than this school year, the district would not be able to cover contractual obligations and could face potential staff cuts, school officials said.

But Mayor Mark Lauretti’s proposed education budget stood at $72.9 million — a $135,000 increase over the 2020-21 school year budget but more than $2 million less than requested.

The Board of Aldermen last month voted 7-1 to a $129 million city budget, a figure that includes a mill rate drop to 22.03, a 1.74 percent decrease from the present year. The final number increased Lauretti’s proposed budget by $786,538, with $600,000 of that hike going to the Board of Education.

Being able to shift $465,644 to salaries in next year’s budget leaves only a $140,000 difference to reconcile, which Saranich said he felt confident could be found.

“I’m committed to not cutting staff,” Saranich said.

After the aldermen’s budget vote, Saranich said he and his central office team began examining the budget for savings in order to prevent staff reductions. The district has lost some 40 positions over the past two years through layoffs and retirements, positions left unfilled.

Saranich said the list presented to the Board of Education Tuesday was simply for materials and supplies. The current budget for the items was $678,912. Saranich said paying for $465,644 through the surplus still leaves $213,268 for such purchases in next year’s budget, but he acknowledged that those funds could end up helping cover the remaining amount for salaries.

One issue remains, Saranich said: covering the $825,000 past tuition payments to the city of Bridgeport for local students attending Bridgeport’s magnet schools. Negotiations between Shelton and Bridgeport city leaders continue, but Saranich said some of the surplus money could be used to cover the debt.

Saranich said the allocated school budget number remains some $750,000 less than the Board of Education’s original request.

“There are several things I believe will fit under the American Rescue Plan Act that can save us money for next year,” Saranich said. “But like I have said all along, using the surplus and grants to help us next year is only creating a financial cliff for future years. At this point, though, I am taking it one year at a time.”

He said he will be meeting with staff this week to discuss budget mitigation options, with plans to submit a new budget to the Board of Education Finance Committee June 16.