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Details of Education Budget Explored at BOE Workshops

Questions by the Board of Education detail concerns of costs

 

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.”

johnqpublic February 03, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Are voters really prepared to accept a 5% tax increase this year? That's maybe $300 $400 or more for a typical house. The budget shows 16% of students or about a sixth of Bethel households get free or subsidized lunches. Can those families afford $300 or $400 or more in property taxes? Dr. Smith says, "After having had no increases in the last two years, this is the year for the increase". If the voters reject, how many will face a layoff or will the unions be prepared for a giveback? These are interesting times.
SmallMinds February 03, 2012 at 07:07 PM
How does Terzian become the spokesperson for the Bd of Ed? He is the guy that was not voted in but appointed. Certainly a very nice, decent man but a police officer with no experience in education in general and only a couple of months on the Bethel Board of Education. Why not talk to some of the members with some perspective and experience? Really, any of them.
SmallMinds February 03, 2012 at 07:10 PM
It's about a buck a day increase. A buck a day in additional taxes. Maybe it's needed and maybe it's not. It's only a buck a day but HEY!! It's a BUCK a day!!!
johnqpublic February 03, 2012 at 07:16 PM
A buck a day added to the $20 a day the taxpayers already pay. $140 a week, over $600 a month or $7000 a year or over $200,000 over the life of a mortgage. .... its another $300 or $400 a year many can not afford on top of what they already pay.
SmallMinds February 03, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Yes, that's right. It's another buck a day and it would be hard for some people. But after 2 years of no increase this is a pretty modest one. With supplies and utilities going up and schools needing repairs it can't stay at 0% forever without falling apart. I'm telling you right now that Bill Hillman is going to be against it. J P Gallagher and Paul Improta, too. Me? I'll wait and see.
J. P. Gallagher February 03, 2012 at 10:33 PM
This debate reinforces the argument that we need to grow our grand list to increase tax revenue because none of any of the proposed increase in the Education Budget will be covered by an increase in state aid which has been frozen for three years and will be for several years to come at least. All of any proposed budget increase will be paid for entirely by local homeowners whose average income has declined over the last four years. This is another reason why it is so foolish to tear down a marketable building (new, old Town Hall) that can bring in revenue and taxes like the Old Center School, the Old Drum Corps building and the buildings on the Whitilessy property are doing since they were sold by the Town of Bethel to private owners. Please attend the Public Hearing on February 29, 2012 and tell our town leaders that Bethel has a history of recycling Town owned buildings for new uses especially when it can help our TAX BASE.
Bill Hillman February 03, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Mr. Small I've not yet made up my mind to support or oppose. Two years ago I supported a nearly 4% tax hike, I quietly did not support last year's nearly 4% tax hike. Last year's school budget was about 3% increase in spending, but benefited from a one-time $476k "stimulus". With nearly 8% increases the past two years, a 5% increase is difficult. The school system's costs are mostly salary and benefits, the past years increases not worse because the bargaining units "kicked the can" to this year. Between the FTE's hired with the 476k and the contract, this is the year of reckoning. Cutting the 1.8 Million increase in half would mean 13 to 16 FTE's eliminated. There's really no way to cut the budget without cutting headcount. So I'll wait and see. The voters will be looking at what the Town does too. If the Grand list has grown, and if the State makes good on what we should be getting for special ed, the 5% increase could yield a 3% or so tax rate change. That might pass, I don't think 5% will.
SmallMinds February 03, 2012 at 10:43 PM
The old town hall is a broken down eyesore. Developing it into commercial property would cause congestion on this tiny intersection and there would be no parking for the businesses. Further, there are acres of empty storefronts in town. Similarly, there is a glut of residential property on the market. And, finally, the tax money it would bring in is minuscule in the context of this discussion. What would it cover? A few new desks and a half a smart board per year?
Bill Hillman February 03, 2012 at 10:45 PM
The second floor of the Library ought to be turned into Leased space as a revenue generator. Times have changed, and I'm not convinced what was planned years ago still applies today.
Cathy McCullen February 05, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Mr Terzian is one of 9 members of the board of education, there is nothing stopping the other 8 members from asking question. Of the 9 members only 2 work in education. Mr Terzian is a Captian in a police department, and very familiar with the ins and outs of municipal budgets. He is an asset to the board and I hope he runs again when his term is up. We need more members like him
J. P. Gallagher February 05, 2012 at 06:17 PM
There is a beautiful picture of the (newer) Brick "Old town" Hall in the Newstimes this past week. It almost looks like something you would see on a Christmas Card. I heard on Saturday that someone has a standing offer of $400,000 to buy the building as is. It is too bad that Bethel's Current Administration refused to spend the State Grant of $150,000 to remove the asbestos from the building. It is our money which we sent to Hartford and The Current Administration has refused to use it. I suppose because they are so determined to demolish the building. It is disappointing that the current administration never gets challenged by the "loyal opposition." All governments need check and balances. Bethel need additional tax revenue and $11,000 plus is nothing to sneeze at.

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