Shelton school budget request could be in the 5% range

Editor’s note: The Board of Education has made further adjustments to the proposed school budget since this article was finalized. Learn more about those changes on this website in the next few days. The Board of Education will not formally approve a school budget request until mid February.

The Board of Education (BOE) is looking at a possible budget increase of around 5% for the upcoming fiscal year. “It’s in that neighborhood,” said BOE Chairman Mark Holden.

The current education budget is almost $68 million.

School staff and BOE members still are working to finalize a budget plan, which will be passed by the school board next month.

That education budget request then will become part of the budget process involving Mayor Mark Lauretti, the Board of Aldermen, and the Board of Apportionment and Taxation.

Proposal still being 'tweaked'

Factors in the expected school budget increase include higher costs for employee salaries, benefits, special education, and transportation, plus the need to implement a state-mandated teacher evaluation process.

“Just about everything is going up,” School Supt. Freeman Burr said.

One item that is going down in cost is heat and utilities, due to the drop in oil prices.

Burr said he is working on some “tweaks” to his initial proposed numbers, based on BOE feedback. “They’ve asked us to make changes,” he said.

Holden said BOE members have urged Burr to pursue “creative ways” to accomplish goals with minimal expenses, and the superintendent is indeed doing just that in many areas.

Salaries, special ed are factors

Burr said salary costs will rise more than 2% overall, or by about $1.8 million. Based on approved union contracts, teachers will get a 3% raise and administrators’ pay will go up about 2.75%, he said.

The district hopes to establish new special education programming support as a way to hold down overall special ed costs. “Hopefully this will help get special ed costs under control,” Burr said.

The district saw an increase of almost two dozen students needing special ed services during this school year, leading to a likely $250,000 shortfall in the current special ed budget.

The school system has slightly more than 5,000 students, of which about 600 — or 15% — require some form of special education.

Burr emphasized that special ed services must be provided by law, and if adequate funds aren’t provided in the budget the money will have to come from other school programs.

In the past, aldermen have complimented BOE officials for their actions to limit special ed cost increases by offering more in-district services, which is less expensive than out-of-district placement.

Technology upgrades

The district hopes to get the city’s support for technology upgrades, including installing new wi-fi access points in schools. Current wi-fi systems are a decade old and beginning to fail, and can’t be repaired, Burr said.

A related priority is server systems for all the new Chromebooks that were purchased through a state grant and now also are used in student testing.

Burr and Holden noted city officials have been supportive of such technology needs in the past, often funding them on the city side of the budget.

Holden said the budget also may include adding certain positions, based on specific needs, such as a media specialist librarian at Shelton High, a guidance counselor, a districtwide English as a Second Language coordinator, and information technology personnel.

Math specialists could be brought on board, funded using current grants.

The mayor’s view of education request

Mayor Mark Lauretti said he is beginning to focus on the new city budget now, and expects some issues will arise with the school system’s spending request.

“The only area of contention usually is the BOE,” he said.

Lauretti said he often has to contend with “games” by the BOE, such as what he called a higher-than-needed initial budget to implement full-day kindergarten during last year’s budget process.