Shelton superintendent seeks funds for more staff, programs

Photo of Brian Gioiele
The Shelton Board of Education offices.

The Shelton Board of Education offices.

Contributed photo

SHELTON — Maintaining or increasing current staffing levels and beefing up the special education budget are critical entering next year’s fiscal year, according to Superintendent Ken Saranich. 

Saranich, at a Board of Education budget workshop Thursday, told board members the district’s recommendation is adding two K-6 teachers and three special education staffers, on top of the $1.48 million increase needed just to maintain present certified staff and $218,576 for non-certified staff. 

The district has already stated that simply maintaining present staff and programs in the next fiscal year would need a more than 6 percent jump, or a $5 million increase, which would put the 2023-24 education budget at about $80 million. 

“To maintain what we have, we need $1.4 million," Saranich said. "If we get less than that, we will have to make cuts in staff, and the implications could be devastating." 

Saranich was asked for dollar implications for these additions, figures which are expected at this week’s budget workshops. A budget workshop which could include the superintendent’s final recommendation, is planned for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the school board offices. The Board of Education would then deliberate and vote on the proposal, which then goes to Mayor Mark Lauretti as he readies his next fiscal year budget.

“I don’t just want to keep what we have," he said. "I want to add staff. We need to add staff.” 

Saranich said the community was concerned about class sizes in Shelton schools.

“People want to move to Shelton, and that’s a good thing," he said. "But if enrollment continues to rise, and we don’t add staff, the class size situation will only get worse.” 

Saranich said salaries comprise 85 percent of the total education budget, so if the Board of Education does not receive an increase of at least $1.4 million, cuts to staff would be necessary. The district has not laid off any staff during Saranich’s two years at the helm. 

The year before his arrival, the district cut 23.5 positions to meet the city’s final education budget number. 

The district added two elementary teachers earlier this school year to lower class sizes in two schools. Saranich said the addition of two more K-6 teachers is meant to meet further class size demands. 

There are no planned hires for the intermediate school. Saranich said the district is considering shifting staff to accommodate the rising enrollment at the intermediate school, but no formal plans are in place at this time.

Saranich also recommended the board consider adding more money to the special education budget to meet what is becoming an annual deficit. 

As the district’s total enrollment fell annually from 2014-15, with a high of 4,927 students, until 2021-22, when the population rose by 56 students, the special education student population has risen each year. The special education population stood at 623 in 2014-15, and is now 791, or 17.6 percent of the total school population of 4,494. 

The special education budget for 2022-23 includes $607,000 for professional services, $1.49 million for public tuition and $2.1 million for private tuition costs. Transportation costs were budgeted at just over $1 million. 

Like last year, Saranich said the special education budget was estimated at a deficit of some $3 million for the present fiscal year. He said he believes about $1.5 million of that deficit would be covered through state excess cost grant funds. 

The remainder could be covered by the city or through other areas of the school budget. COVID relief funds also could be used to aid in covering the deficit, Saranich said. 

But, he said, next year pandemic relief grants will not be available, so the Board of Education must consider how to cover those expected deficit costs in the 2023-24 budget 

“With these grants, we hope to net out at a zero budget for this year,” Saranich said, “But I am advising you as a board, if you choose not to increase the special education budget, we will see the exact same trend next year. The only difference is next year, we will have no grant money in reserve."