By TAYLOR HARTZ
The Board of Education (BOE) voted Thursday to adopt their operating budget for the 2015-2016 Fiscal Year as approved by the Board of Finance (BOF) and the Town Council.
The budget, totaling $89,667,401, falls $530,000 below the amount the BOE originally requested for their operations in the coming fiscal year. In an operating budget report released by the BOE in February, the board asked for $90,197,401, a 3.59 percent increase from their budget during 2014-15.
The request came after eight months of review from the board, superintendent, and school faculties. Principals and program coordinators for Southington Public Schools began reviewing spending guidelines and developing their budget requests in October 2014.
After two budget workshops and the superintendent’s budget recommendation, the BOE made their request in February. The requested increase from this fiscal year’s budget was included to account for several financial needs, including increased wages and benefits for full time employees (FTEs).
Salaries and benefits account for 80 percent of the total budget. Wage increases per union contracts raised the wages of administrators, teachers, maintenance staff, secretaries, nurses and paraprofessionals by an average of 2.2 percent.
The total salary increases for existing personnel accounted for $1,472,549, or 1.69 percent of the budget, while benefit increases added another $1,196,390 or 1.37 percent.
After reviewing the budget proposal, the BOF awarded the BOE a 2.98 percent increase from last fiscal year, falling $530,000 short of their request.
On May 11, the Town Council met and voted on the proposed budget. Councilor Chris Palmieri requested to increase the BOE budget higher than the BOF’s proposed 2.98 percent.
“We see in documentation that to pay for benefits and salaries alone they need a 3.07 percent increase,” said Palmieri, proposing the slight increase in the BOE budget in order to cover essential salaries and benefits by restoring $74,000.
Councilors Paul Champagne, Dawn Micelli, and John Barry joined Palmieri in voting ‘yes’ for the increase to cover wage and benefit expenses, but the proposal failed by one vote. The final BOE budget passed the Council vote, 6-3, with an increase of 2.98 percent from this year’s budget.
On May 14, the BOE voted to adopt and allocate the approved budget.
To balance this budget with the BOE’s original proposal, with $530,000 less than they expected, the BOE spent more than a half hour in discussion on the allocation vote.
Sherri DiNello, Director of Business and Finance for Southington Public Schools discussed financial need updates that would lower expenses.
Lower costs included a savings of approximately five percent on benefits, which results in a reduction of about $35,000. A lower workers’ compensation renewal than anticipated, saved an additional $6,000.
A reduction in textbook costs was recommended to save an additional $50,000 by waiting until a decision is made on the choice for a new math textbook.
These changes would trim the deficit by $91,000.
DiNello noted that kindergarten class sizes that were smaller than expected allowed them a reduction on kindergarten needs and recommended that the BOE hold on hiring a network manager until January.
These factors may account for a potential reduction in new personnel salaries for regular and special education that totaled $152, 408.
DiNello also recommended that the board cut $85,000 dollars in funding for the start of a new technology lease—the board has been adding this amount annually for the new line item, and the coming fiscal year was supposed to be the second-to-last payment.
Finally, the board agreed on a reduction of four FTEs.
BOE member Terri Lombardi asked DiNello if they had considered pushing any contracts or lowering supply needs. Lombardi also asked if reviewing those expenses could halt the FTE reductions.
Several board members discussed potential problems schools could face if faculty is reduced and class sizes grow over the summer months.
“If you didn’t have some level of discomfort today, I’d be concerned” DiNello said about the reductions. Both DiNello and BOE Chairman Brian Goralski encouraged the board to come to an agreement on the budget and address FTE reductions in the coming months.
The council agreed to revisit the issue of which education levels would lose FTEs, and did not designate which schools or classes would lose faculty.
Despite the challenges, this budget marked one of the closest request-to-funding matches in over a decade. A comparison of the budget recommended by the BOE and the budget approved by the BOF and Town Council represents only a .61 percent reduction from the original BOE request.
Since 2005, the BOE has seen differences as close as .27 percent (2012-13) and as large as the 3.24 percent gap in 2005-06.
The BOE will begin operating on their new budget with the start of the 2015-16 FY on July 1.