Will Shelton schools get enough to begin full-day kindergarten?

School officials plan to make their case for more funding than recommended by Mayor Mark Lauretti to the Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T).

School Supt. Freeman Burr said the goal during the budget process will be “to get to a place where full-day kindergarten is viable. … We have to put our best step forward.”

Board of Education (BOE) Chairman Mark Holden agreed the goal is to make full-day kindergarten happen, and that will require more funds than Lauretti has proposed giving the school system.

The BOE had requested an increase of $3.5 million, or 5.4%, and Lauretti’s proposed budget has an increase for education of $2 million, or 3%. Lauretti’s budget plan would leave the city’s tax rate unchanged.

The BOE needs a minimum budget increase of $2.75 million to $2.8 million to start full-day kindergarten in the fall, according to school officials.

‘Rollover’ costs require $2.4m

Officials said at least $2.4 million of that is needed just to pay the “rollover” costs for a status quo budget plus contractual employee salary increases and higher benefit and transportation costs.

They said the BOE also is being hit hard by the escalating cost of propane, which has skyrocketed this winter due to cold weather and other factors. The city’s new school buses use propane, which still is cheaper than diesel.

The other $400,000 or so that is needed over the current education allocation would fund the implementation of full-day K. The city’s school system now offers a half-day kindergarten program.

‘Funding gap’

Burr said based on Lauretti’s proposal, the school system faces “a funding gap” of $400,000 just to avoid cutbacks.

He said the five elementary school teaching positions being reduced to help offset the eight new kindergarten teaching positions for full-day K would still be eliminated unless the BOE budget is increased. “That will be a travesty,” Burr said.

And even if the BOE gets about $2.8 million more, Burr said, none of the other proposed new positions would be filled — such as psychologists, counselors and tutors. “We virtually won’t be able to do anything else,” he said.

Staying positive

Holden said the mayor’s proposed budget means he “essentially has rejected all the program improvements we suggested for next year.”

“Everything we asked for was reasonable and good for the taxpayers of Shelton,” Holden said.

He plans to remain positive during the budget process and focus on the facts, Holden said, “because the facts are good to us.”

He’s optimistic that officials — including aldermen — will understand the positive ramifications of starting full-day kindergarten.

Holden and other proponents have argued that full-day K will save money in the long run by lowering the need for student remedial help in higher grades.

He hopes the public will support a higher education budget, and do it in a positive and respectful way at upcoming meetings.

Lauretti: Reaction is typical

For his part, Lauretti said the BOE’s reaction is typical for the budget season.

“Having done this for 23 years and hearing them say the same thing no matter what the numbers, there’s nothing really left for me to say,” he said.

Lauretti said BOE officials make the same argument every year, requesting much higher increases than on the city side of the budget.

He said the school system received an almost $2-million increase during the last budget season, and he noted he has recommended giving them $500,000 for capital projects separate from the operating budget during the next fiscal year.

“Their enrollment has gone down three years in a row,” Lauretti said. “How can their costs keep going up?”

Small increase on city side

The mayor noted that the city side of government is going up by much less than the school side under his proposal, and that taxes wouldn’t go up for anyone.

Lauretti said serving on the BOE seems to change people, who push for spending increases they didn’t support when they were on other non-education boards. “Every one changes once they go there,” he said.

He agreed that higher propane prices have hurt the BOE, but said switching to propane-powered buses will save lots of money in the long term.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

After the A&T votes on the budget, it goes on to the Board of Aldermen for consideration. The aldermen should pass a budget and set the new mill rate in May.