The Board of Education will grapple with the superintendent's recommended $156,171,651 budget in the coming weeks -- a figure that represents a $7.2 million or 4.86 percent increase over the current year's operating budget of $148.9 million.
"Every year, it's a challenge to create a budget for a highly regarding district and keep the increase as low as possible," Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Title said as he presented the budget to the board on Tuesday.
A sharp rise in the cost of health insurance is the major driver for the $7.2 million increase, Title said. Higher-than-expected claims made during the past 12 months along with the increased cost of services and federal mandates are to blame, he added.
To cover those expenses, the proposed budget adds $5.4 million to the health insurance account -- a bump that accounts for approximately three-quarters of the total increase over the current fiscal year's plan.
Pension costs for non-certified staff have also increased, according to Title. The proposed increase to that account is $571,167.
A rise in teachers' wages is also accounted for. That line item has been proposed to be bolstered by $810,756 to cover the 2.25 percent increase in salaries during 2013-2014 as set forth in the teachers contract.
In response to these large increases to fixed costs, Title said his strategy was "to control the rest of the budget, whatever we control" and keep all other expenses as close as possible to the current year's expenses.
According to Title, the total number of certified staff in the district will remain virtually unchanged. Forecast enrollment shifts will reduce staff in the elementary schools and add teachers to the high schools, but the net total will remain about the same.
The upcoming year is not the year Fairfield will see a return of the world language program or most of the other service cuts that were made in 2011.
However, Title added part-time coverage to the both high school's libraries and computer labs to the tune of $23,000 so that the labs will be staffed and the libraries can remain open for a few hours after school. He said that both Warde and Ludlowe's principals the cuts to those resources had been "detrimental."
The board will dig into the budget starting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22 in the Board of Education conference room (501 Kings Highway East) and will continue the discussion on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. The board is scheduled to adopt the budget on Tuesday, Jan. 29 at its 7:30 p.m. meeting.
The Representative Town Meeting is scheduled to vote on both the school and town operating budgets on Monday, May 6.