By SHERIDAN CYR
The Board of Education trimmed 0.5 percent from the Superintendent’s proposed budget when they presented their recommendations for the 2018-19 fiscal year to the Board of Finance on Feb. 15. The BOE budget proposal currently stands at $96,816,329, a 2.27 percent increase from the current budget.
BOE chair Brian Goralski said the budget being proposed was a reduction from the previous year’s proposal as a result of the current fiscal year’s restrictions.
“This year is like no other we’ve seen,” said Goralski. “The state is pushing more and more down onto local communities. It is the obligation of the BOE to present a budget that provides an education for our children.”
The 2.27 percent increase marks the smallest increase proposed by the BOE in years. Last year, the BOE requested a 2.91 percent increase, which was trimmed to 2.06 percent during the budget process.
This year, the BOF needs to address a $5.1 million reduction in state aid, and that has added more scrutiny to the budget process. Last week, in a letter signed off by chairs of the Town Council, BOF and BOE, it was decided that the $3 million contingency would be split by 85 percent to the BOE and 15 percent to the town, as representative of their respective budget deficits.
“Before we replace the $3 million, we wanted to see substantive cuts on the town government and BOE’s side to account for the remaining $2.1 million,” said BOF chair John Leary. “If we don’t fix this now, next year it becomes $4 million, and then $6 million, providing the state stays where it is now. This needs to be resolved before we set the 2018-19 budget.”
Discussion ensued between the BOF, BOE and the Town Manager Mark Sciota to figure out the best way to approach the $2.1 million hole between the town and the BOE.
Some members questioned if it would be appropriate to address the $2.1 million deficit with the same ratio used to distribute the $3 million contingency fund.
Superintendent Tim Connellan said it is difficult for the BOE to make structural changes during the middle of the school year, as personnel salaries and benefits make up about 81.24 percent of the BOE’s entire operating budget.
“I’m not sure if a percentage is the way to handle a revenue project,” said Goralski. “What we need is a true team philosophy in order to address that $2.1 million. We don’t work as one town if we start drawing lines.”
Sciota asked the BOF for guidance. “We felt the 85/15 split [for the contingency] was very fair. If we’re going to deal with revenue, the $3 million contingency is also revenue. As much as we get along, we still have our own areas we are looking at.”
BOF member Joseph Labieniec made a motion in which, on or before March 14, a plan would be brought to the BOF to close the $2.1 gap with a suggested 75/25 percent split. The town government and BOE would both present a list of cuts, noting if each cut is structural or not. Each item would also note if it is completely in the control of the organization, and if not, what factors it is dependent on. If the item is out of their control, a back-up plan within their control would need to be included.
The motion was seconded by Tony Morrison and unanimously approved in a voice vote.
The BOF unanimously approved the 2018/19 budget schedule of workshops and public hearings. A public hearing will be held on March 13 at 7 p.m. at DePaolo Middle School on the General Government/ Town Manager’s proposed budget and on the BOE’s proposed budget.
Budget review workshops will be held at the Town Hall Finance Department Conference Room at 6:30 p.m. on March 19, 20, 21, and if necessary, March 27. At a regular BOF meeting on March 28, the board will recommend the FY 2018-19 budget.
The Town Council will hold a public hearing following the BOF’s recommendation on April 23 at the municipal center. On May 16, at a regular BOF meeting, the BOF will set the mill rate for the FY 2018-19 budget.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.