By SHERIDAN ROY
Board of Finance members had their first official look at the Board of Education’s budget request of $100,216,856 at a budget workshop on Feb. 13.
“When we have this workshop, we are seeking clarity, understanding, and building confidence between our boards,” said BOF chair John Leary before the presentation. “This helps us to know what’s in the budget, and to be able to ask questions.”
The request is an increase of 4.58 percent from the current budget of $95,827,529, and the Superintendent of Schools Tim Connellan had the opportunity to defend his budget during his presentation.
“For the past two years, we’ve witnessed approved budgets for our school district below funding levels required to maintain current levels of service,” said Connellan. “The district has not been able to implement incremental improvements, and the result is this spike in our overall request. This current budget addresses the most significant of our needs.”
Major drivers of the budget increase are existing salary increases, new personnel, benefits, purchased services, and major projects and equipment. New personnel and major projects and equipment have been on hold the last two years.
Leary asked BOE members how the per-pupil spending ranking is done.
“When we’re done educating a student from kindergarten to grade 12, we have put about $210,000 into each student,” said Leary. “I would like somebody to figure out what makes us 156 out of 166 districts for per pupil spending. If we are putting $100 million in, and we’re educating students, and doing a good job, how do we ‘do a good job’ if we’re at 156 out of 166? What combination of factors make us successful at that amount of spending?”
BOE chair Brian Goralski said funding in schools today focuses on educating children to be effective in whatever path they choose following high school.
“Our job in the school system is to use that $210,000 per student and make sure the highest achievement is possible for that individual student,” he said. “It’s about catering education to each kid.”
Leary also questioned how the fact that Southington only has one high school played into SPS’s low ranking in per-pupil spending, suggesting the ranking would be higher if there were two schools. Connellan said Glastonbury, Trumbull and Shelton—all similar sized districts—have one high school.
“When you have two schools, you look at double the staff,” he said. “Having one high school, we have pretty comprehensive opportunities for students that you wouldn’t necessarily have if we had two high schools.”
BOF member Tony Morrison (D) said, to make a town budget, the four pieces of the puzzle include the grand list of $1.8 million, revenue increases to the BOE and town, and external impacts from the state. He included an increase to a municipal employees retirement system (MERS) fund to the town of $1.1 million, which is essentially the town’s pension plan administered by the state. The MERS fund recently reduced its rate of return to municipalities from 8 percent to 7 percent—a result of more than a one percent increase to the town’s budget.
“So right now, we have the grand list increase of $1.8 million, offset by expenses of $5.5 million, which essentially right now without anything else is asking taxpayers to pay $3.7 million extra, which is pretty much close to one mill increase,” said Morrison, “And it will probably get worse with some gives and takes. We are faced with the issue of how to fund our services, and that’s where we are right now.”
Morrison said the town will face financial problems going forward from the state, and asked that the BOE look at things it can do to provide a better education model over the next few years.
“It’s not going to be business as usual in the town, or in our schools,” he said.
A public hearing will be held on March 4 at 7 p.m. at DePaolo Middle School on the general government/town manager’s proposed budget and the BOE’s proposed budget. The BOF will recommend the 2019-2020 budget at council chambers.
The Town Council will hold a public hearing on the budget at the municipal center on April 11 at 7 p.m., and will adopt the budget on May 13. The BOF will then set the mill rate on May 15.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.