By SHERIDAN CYR
School budgets were, once again, the topic as Southington’s superintendent of schools Tim Connellan addressed the Board of Education at the April 26 meeting. Connellan recounted this year’s budget timeline in order to address what he stated was “a lot of misinformation that has been promulgated” regarding the BOE’s actions and decisions surrounding the budget.
“I find it distressing, to say the least,” said Connellan. “The members of the administration here and the board members have worked very hard on this, and I think the information out there has not been accurate.”
The superintendent took the board back to the beginning of the school year when he sat down with the Town Manager and agreed to put all capital projects on hold. On the same day, he said, textbook purchases were frozen. Two weeks later, unaffiliated employee wages were frozen.
Connellan said that the letter sent by Town Councilors Chris Palmieri and Michael Riccio on Sept. 22 asking the BOE to address a budget cut of about $5 million. The letter was a topic of discussion at a recent council meeting, where councilors criticized the BOE for a lack of response.
However, Connellan argued that was not true. “On Sept. 25, Mr. Goralski responded to that, requesting or suggesting that the best way to deal with that issue was a meeting between and amongst the elected boards.”
From there, discretionary school funds were frozen on Oct. 2. The Connecticut General Assembly adopted a budget on Oct. 26 which included a reduction of state funding to Southington at the price tag of $3 million.
On Nov. 2, Connellan requested through the Town manager that the Board of Finance address the overall budget structure and the $8.3 million special education grant that did not come through to the town.
Connellan said that he cautioned the board that the grant didn’t exist, and he said that Sherri DiNello, Southington public schools’ director of business and finance addressed this on three different occasions. Connellan said that DiNello was clear that leaders were “relying on money that doesn’t exist and was not going to come.”
“The net result of adopting that budget with that grant created a $6.9 million hole in our budget before any state reductions,” said the superintendent. “It’s not about spending—it’s about revenue. Our budget was flawed from the very beginning.”
Connellan pointed out a deficit mitigation plan that was constructed by the BOF to distribute a $3 million contingency to the BOE and the town.
The town and BOE voted on and presented their individual proposed budgets.
The BOF deducted some funding from the BOE before approving one combined budget to the Town Council.
Since that time, the council has held a public hearing and is in the process of reviewing information. They will adopt a budget on May 16.
“I laid all this out because, quite frankly, I’m just tired of people saying the board didn’t do anything and the administration didn’t do anything,” said Connellan. “It’s simply not accurate. These are the actions and dates of things we’ve done over the course of the year to try to address this problem.”
BOE member Bob Brown attended the council’s budget hearing and addressed it at the BOE meeting. Brown said that he agreed with Connellan. It is a revenue problem and not a spending problem.
“We only heard this stuff when the state shorted us by millions of dollars,” Brown said. “Now, all of a sudden, there are questions about our spending.”
BOE chair Brian Goralski said he was proud of the community support for the BOE at the council’s hearing.
“The Town Council gets the decision to make now,” he said. “I hope they listen to the public, and if they have any questions, that they ask us directly.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.
Current Town Budget proposals for FY 2018-2019
For the General Government proposed budget click here:
For the Board of Education budget, including the Superintendent’s proposed budget and the BOE’s proposed budget, click here: SouthingtonSchoolsbudget
For the Board of Finance proposed budget, click here:
Observer coverage for this year’s budget talks