The Board of Education’s was in the hot seat earlier this month during a budget hearing before the Boards of and
The proposal brought before the boards is “the lowest we’ve brought forward in recent years,” Chairman Pamela Iacono said. She added that she asked the Central Office to look back at the last 10 or so years of budget proposals.
Last year’s proposed budget by the Board of Selectmen, the finance board, and the RTM.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau added that $600,000 could be trimmed from the budget, thanks to a change in the required contribution amount recommended by the district’s pension board. This decision came after the school board’s adoption of the budget in January.
Such a cut reduces the budget from a 2.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s budget to a 2.1 percent increase.
One resident felt that cut wasn’t fair and questioned the timing of the pension board meeting.
Suzanne Miska of Ryegate Road told the Boards of Finance and Selectmen that she would have liked to see the budget go back to the school board following the discovery of pension savings so the board could allocate the money elsewhere in the budget.
The pension board met on Feb. 8, Tetreau said -- two weeks after the budget was adopted. “It wasn’t intentional to hold that back.”
Title added that the cut doesn’t affect programming, services, or class size.
Other areas of the budget that were questioned at the hearing included:
- Transportations costs, which increased by 8 percent in the 2012-13 proposed budget: 2012-2013 is the end of a five-year contract with First Student, the bus company the district uses, Title said. Each year of that contract came with a 3 percent contractual rate increase. Other costs include the addition of buses to accommodate grandfathering, plus the addition of bus routes. Once grandfathering is complete, the bus fleet will be reduced by six or seven buses, according to Title. “We’ll see savings.”
- Custodial Overtime: Overtime for custodians is included in the part-time salary line item, since it’s not apparent when the budget is compiled how much overtime a particular custodian will work. Reasons for cost increase include the use of buildings for which the district is not reimbursed (for example, town meetings held in the Central Office building); contract increases (this particular contract is up for negotiation now); getting the schools ready to open at the end of the summer; and snow removal/storm cleanup, which Title said costs $75,000-85,000 a year. “There’s almost nothing you can do about that.” Title said that the district is looking into cost-cutting strategies, like completely shutting down all the schools during the week between Christmas and New Year to save on maintenance and electricity.
- Building Envelope Preventive Maintenance: According to the budget book, this account is historically underfunded, and the district has been facing a larger amount of repairs, fixes, and building façade upkeep. The school budget requests a $55,000 increase for this account, bumping it up from $85,000 to $125,000. District Director of Operations Tom Cullen said there were problems with caulking (part of the “building envelope”) used in schools like McKinley, and they’re “not getting the life that the old caulking did.”
- Staffing changes: The proposed budget includes a shift of teachers from elementary school to high school positions, as there's a projected increase of 117 high students for the next school year's enrollment, and a decrease in elementary school enrollment. "We're a labor-intensive business," Title said. "New kids means more staff." Another change in staffing includes decreasing the number of paraprofessionals in the special education departments and upping the number of certified fulltime teachers, .
The school budget faced mix public comment. Meredith McCormack, PTA budget representative for Sherman School, said she felt Title did a good job of balancing increases with offsets in savings.
“It’s a well thought-out budget in light of today’s economic times,” she said. “Please support it as is; we can’t take anymore cuts.”
RTM member Carolyn Richmond, R-1, relayed a message from her constituents to the Boards of Finance, Selectmen, and Education: “Do not increase the budget. Do not increase our taxes.”
The on the Board of Education’s budget is March 12. The board has uploaded an online version of its complete budget proposal on the district’s website.