Board of Education proposes nearly 4% budget increase

The Shelton Board of Education voted unanimously to support the superintendent’s recommendation for a 2018-19 budget request of $74,318,407 at its Wednesday, Jan. 24, meeting.

The $74.3-million budget request represents a 3.99% increase from the board’s current budget.
According to Board of Ed Chairman Mark Holden, this year’s budget request represents the board’s effort to gain back some of what uncertainty at the state and federal level in the past two years forced the district to operate without.

“Last year’s budget was an unusual case. There was a lot of uncertainty — no one felt comfortable predicting what would happen with the state or federal funding,” said Holden. “We ended up with a very tight budget — making it work meant strapping ourselves in many respects. We reduced our teaching staff by 11. We cut our school supplies by an amount that has schools doing without things they need on a day-to-day basis. We changed our school lunch provider to one who could reduce our costs by enough to preserve about three teaching jobs. The effects have been painful for many people, but there is no getting away from the fact our mayor and aldermen accepted a risk to give us some certainty, even if it was less than we needed to maintain our services.”
Strategic 2018-19 budget
Holden stated that although the budget proposal the board unanimously supported isn’t perfect, it allows the district to “get class sizes back to an acceptable level” and ensures that classes that must be run can be staffed.

The board chair said the 2018-19 budget proposal also addresses the goal of many board members to continue working to bring the city’s high school music program back to the level it enjoyed in the past, and restores some much-needed classroom supplies as well as other areas in which the district is currently behind.
“It includes a gradual start to the one-to-one computer concept — something 40% of school districts have already accomplished on a nationwide basis,” said Holden. “Because of the uncertainty with the state and federal funding, we did our best to hold our budget down as much as we could, and then when the state came back with a lower amount we figured that under the circumstances we needed to try and make that work.”
In 2017, Holden said, the district faced the issue of larger class sizes, which included four elementary classes with a ratio of 26 students to one teacher. In an effort to address the overwhelming class sizes in some of the elementary schools, the board has proposed hiring some of the staff it was forced to let go in 2017.

“We’ve added back 6.8 teachers, and one of the additions, which is a program improvement, is .8 of a music teacher,” said Holden before explaining that the .8 staff member comes from part-time staff. “We’re looking to bring strings back into the high school band. … We have one teacher who needs to be involved in two of those classes that we are adding, and he only has been teaching part of the time at Shelton High and part of the time at SIS. We need him to be in one building and have someone else in the other building. Essentially what we’re doing is looking to get back what we had to do without for this past fiscal year and a little bit of growth and improvements.”

Holden said another option the board is exploring to address the large class sizes is redistricting.
“Our goal is to bring in a professional consulting outfit that knows how to do these things as painlessly as possible,” said Holden. “Redistricting is often times looked at as the ‘third rail’ in education, because no matter what you do, any of the kids that move lose out on friends or maybe their friends are moving away. It’s never a popular thing.”

The study, according to Holden, would need to be added into the board’s budget. He said the board has never redistricted since he was elected chair in 2012.
This year’s proposed education budget also looks to get the district on board with the “one-to-one program,” which would provide each student with a laptop to use during school hours.  
“We’re looking to accomplish that with one class to begin with and then add a class every year,” said Holden. “So it will take us several years to make that happen, but in the long run it will allow us to save money because when you have one-to-one across the board, you can begin to use digital textbooks. You don’t necessarily see the savings right away because we already own some textbooks, so where the savings come in is when it’s time to replace those textbooks. It’s the way of the future and it’s time to start heading there.”
Holden said the board’s largest expense coming into this year’s budget season will be the district’s new bus contract.
“The last time we did a bus contract, one of the contractors said, ‘We don’t use union drivers and we’re willing to pay as much as minimum wage if we have to,’” said Holden. “We know that Landmark is having trouble getting enough drivers even though they’re paying much more than the minimum wage. So we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re stuck without an adequate supply of drivers to run the routes. So we’ll interview all of the people and see who is the lowest responsible bidder, but at this point we don’t know who that’s going to be, so we’re figuring a little above the lowest, but below the highest.”
Shelton’s five-year contract with Landmark expires this year.
If the district were to select a bus company that doesn’t hire union drivers, some Shelton drivers would lose their jobs, according to Holden.

What’s next?
As of now, the Board of Ed has discussed its budget only among its members, but once it creates its booklet, the discussion with other city boards will begin.
“Now that we’ve identified what our needs are, we will be getting in touch with the other boards to offer them information and we’ll take it from there,” said Holden.
Holden said the board’s next step is to compile the line items that make up its 2018-19 budget request into a booklet that needs to be presented to the mayor before Feb. 15. Holden said he is optimistic the process will be as smooth as it has been the past two years.
“The last two budget seasons have been friendly and cordial,” said Holden. “I hope everyone will support the budget proposal, and work in a friendly and respectful manner to help the mayor, Board of Apportionment and Taxation and Board of Aldermen understand it is a good investment in the future of Shelton.”

On or before March 22, Mayor Mark Lauretti will present his budget proposal to the Board of A&T during a joint meeting with the Board of Aldermen.  
The Board of A&T will then run a series of budget interviews for all departments. This process also occurs during joint meetings with the aldermen. A&T then presents its proposed budget to the Board of Aldermen before the end of April. The aldermen will then vote on the actual budget and set the mill rate before the end of May.  

Holden said he expects the city’s education board will also hold one or more public information nights to explain its budget request to parents and other interested people.