BERLIN - The Board of Education on Monday adopted School Superintendent Brian Benigniâ€™s $44.8 million budget for 2018-19.
Benigniâ€™s first budget, which still requires approval by the Board of Finance and Town Council approval and then public approval at referendum, represents a 4.3 percent increase over this fiscal yearâ€™s, driven largely by a 14.91 percent increase in benefits, a 15.11 percent increase in transportation and a 17 percent increase in contracted services.
That last increase is attributable largely to the cost of a special education program known as Effective School Solutions, which three mothers and a student praised during the public hearing held before the regular board session.
â€śI need ESS,â€ť said Carlos Fontes, a junior at Berlin High School who deals with depression and is enrolled in the program.
He said that, on May 5, 2017, he had wanted to attempt suicide but didnâ€™t thanks to the staff at the high school.
He said ESS has made him feel comfortable in school.
â€śESS is the reason why I come to school every day,â€ť he added.
Former Town Councilor Rachel Rochette, who said she has a daughter in the program, said, â€śI ask you to please keep ESS in your budget.â€ť The program provides a safe haven for children, she added.
At a previous meeting, Linda Holian, the director of pupil personnel services, who oversees special education, including the $275,000 ESS program, said ESS has about 18 students enrolled.
She said if it werenâ€™t for the program, some those students would have to be sent to other districts, at a greater cost to the town. The program was introduced two years ago, but was funded with available money from other grants.
Because the two counselors in the program, as contracted service people, can enter the homes of students and let them ride in their cars, theyâ€™re able to help students who have school avoidance issues more easily, she also said. Teachers arenâ€™t allowed to do such things, she said.
The program also offers daily group therapy, individual therapy and crisis/classroom intervention. Parents receive family therapy and consultation, among other services.
The budget would eliminate an assistant principal position shared by Griswold and Willard elementary schools, replacing it with teacher leader positions at all three elementary schools.
A third-grade teacher would be dropped at Willard, as will two teachers at the high school and a member of the clerical staff at McGee Middle School.
Transportation cost increases in the Benigni budget stem largely from the state-mandated cost of transporting a new student to an out-of-district technical school.
The district is projected to receive $5.4 million in state education funding in the coming fiscal year as a result of Gov. Dannel Malloyâ€™s 2018-19 budget adjustments.
That is $723,513 less than what had been projected when the stateâ€™s two-year budget was passed last October, after which Malloy made additional cuts.
Both the town and school budgets are due to be presented the Board of Finance by March 1. The public hearing will be on March 27 in the Berlin High School auditorium.
On March 28, the finance board will vote on whether to send the school budget to the council, which will vote on April 3 on sending it and the town budget to referendum for separate votes. The referendum will take place on April 24.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.