Board of Education votes on proposed budget

After looking at a preliminary budget that represented a 6.8% increase, the Board of Education has pared back a bit and approved a proposed budget that represents a 5.49% increase.

The budget proposal for the 2013-14 school year totals $67,240,073, a $3.5-million increase over the current year’s budget. The board scaled back Superintendent Freeman Burr’s preliminary budget by about $900,000.

It was approved at last week’s board meeting.

“I think it’s a responsible budget,” Chair Mark Holden said. “It does allow for some program improvement.

The budget includes $440,185 for new programs, cut back from the superintendent’s initial request of $765,000. The money will cover hiring a few new positions, replacing and adding new computers and purchasing new textbooks. New positions include a tutor at Shelton Intermediate, adding part-time counselors to Elizabeth Shelton and Long Hill, and tutors at Booth Hill and Long Hill schools. Two special education teachers would be added at Shelton High School, as well as a career technology teacher, science teacher and part-time physical education teacher.

The bulk of the budget increase can be attributed to contracted salary increases and rising benefit costs. About $1.5 million is in salary increases, and another $1.2 million is based on estimated increase of benefits. The district is still trying to get a lower rate for health insurance renewal, after it received an initial quote of 18%. The proposed budget is using a 10% renewal estimate as a placeholder.

Transportation is projected to cost about $262,000, down from an estimated $500,000.

Arlene Liscinsky, who serves on the board’s finance subcommittee, said the proposal represents a lot of hard work and consideration.

“We have been lean and mean the last four years,” Liscinsky said. “Our budget, over the last four years, had only increased by $731,000. We have done an awful lot with very little, in terms of dollars.”

Mayor Mark Lauretti said last week that he recognized the school budget has been lean the last few years, and some increases will be coming their way. The mayor makes his budget presentation in February and then the school and city budget proposals go before the Board of Apportionment and Taxation for vetting, before the Board of Aldermen makes the final decision.

Burr said that the teachers, administrators and other staff have done a great job improving student performance each year and providing high-quality instruction, despite limited resources.

“I think if we don’t receive adequate funding this year, all bets are off,” Burr said.