members have spent the last two weeks fine-combing the $39.8 million 2012-2013 education budget. Superintendent Kevin Smith, Ph.D. said that there were no major surprises in most areas, but Board of Education members worry that the 4.98 percent increase could set taxpayers on edge.
“We are starting this budget with a $500,000 deficit,” Board of Education member Bryan Terzian said, referring to federal monies that the district received last year for salaries. The lack of that money will have to be paid from this year's budget.
Smith reports that this is the third year in a three year teacher's contract. “After having had no increases in the last two years, this is the year for the increase. If you look at the increases and average them over four years, it is only a two percent increase.”
The budget shows that most costs have remained relatively the same since last year, with dramatic increases seen in very few areas.
A 7.12 percent increase in benefits was the number negotiated with the unions.
The budget includes additional para-professionals and teachers, which Theresa D. Yonski, director of fiscal services, said has become critical because children with severe needs are increasing in the district. As the children move up in grades, their paras and aides move up with them, Yonsky said.
Superintendent Gary Chesley stated, “We haven't hired anybody in years.”
Line by line, the 460 budget, reflecting building and material costs, remains the same in many areas. Increases include aging materials, and Smith said, “We are facing an aging infrastructure.”
A 34 percent increase in furniture reflects replacement only. In questions produced by the Board of Education, Yonski replied that there was so much asbestos found during the renovation that money for furniture was reallocated elsewhere.
Terzian was concerned that replacing the furniture would be hard for taxpayers to accept. “We have to decide what is important in these unprecedented times,” he said.
Some of the items that need to be replaced include broken blinds, floors in the middle school are bubbling, seating in the auditorium needs to be replaced, stage curtains in the auditorium are losing their fire retardancy and will become a hazard and liability.
Bob Germinaro, supervisor of facility operation, said one school has twelve broken clocks. He recommended not replacing the clocks but finding a new system. The total cost he is seeking is only $389, evident of the boards's line by line examination of the budget.
While not relevant this year, much of last year's snow removal in town was carried out through the school budget. Conversations revolved around whose responsibility it was to plow municipal areas.
The budget for technology showed no increase. Smart boards are in use within the classrooms, and while no additional spending was requested, the importance of having students technologically savvy was critical. The board discussed not hiring more teachers from Western State Connecticut University if their students are not up to date technologically.
BOE member have submitted more than 60 questions about the budget.
Superintendent Smith defended the budget and said, “We are a very high achieving district and it's not by accident. Our budget is the financial expression of our vision. One of the significant realities is the complexity of educating the special education kids. It is very costly, but these children have a right to this kind of an education and we are doing a very profound job with them. And that requires highly trained people.”