Members of the Fairfield Board of Finance hinted Tuesday that cuts could come to the proposed $155.8 million Board of Education Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget.
"This 6.4 percent tax increase, according to me and individuals around town, cannot be sustained," Finance board member James Walsh said, referring to the First Selectman's proposed tax hike for the coming fiscal year. "Cuts will have to be made, that's what it comes down to."
Reductions to the budget won't be made until the Board of Finance votes on the financial plan on April 2 -- where potential cuts would be absorbed is up in the air.
The proposed budget passed by the Board of Education carries a 4.63 percent, or $6.9 million increase. Health insurance costs -- skyrocketed by an excess of large claims over the past 12 months -- account for 3.65 percent, or $5.4 million, of that increase. There's also a 0.53 percent increase in salaries and a 0.35 percent proposed increase to the pension fund.
The funding for the district's programs and services accounts for .10 percent of the increase.
Finance Chair Tom Flynn asked Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Title whether -- if a cut does come to the district's budget -- if the school board has given thought to programs that could be reduced or eliminated.
Title said that the board has not cost-out each program offered by the district and it would be more effective to go over possible service reductions if the budget is actually reduced by the Board of Finance and RTM.
At Walsh's request, Title discussed the impact of increasing the maximum class size at the elementary level as a potential cost savings. Currently, the maximum size for a kindergarten - second grade class is 23; for grades three to five, it's 25. Increasing each maximum by one would eliminate seven teachers -- an estimated $490,000 in salaries and benefits (using $70,000 as a figure for an average salary with benefits).
Walsh said that perhaps its time to start looking into options like increasing the size of elementary classes, which has been done in the middle and high schools.
"It's going to be different this year," he said of the budget process.
But resident Suzanne Miska told the board during public comment that she's "amazed that we're talking about expanding class sizes and cutting programs."
She said the Board of Finance -- and other town bodies, like the pension board -- need to look at the way the town funds healthcare and pension accounts, and consider decreasing staff salaries through contract obligations.
"There are always inconsistencies...It's shortsighted to look at programs when it's the healthcare and pension costs that drive the budget. Instead of jumping off the cliff...be more considerate."
Lisa Havey, president of the Parent Teacher Association Council, agreed with Miska.
"There's no growth in our education, no advancement of our programs. We're in a status quo," she said.
"We could lose people, families" if the status quo with Fairfield's educational programming remains, Havey added.
The Board of Finance's next budget hearing, scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m., is on the public safety, health and welfare budgets.