NEW BRITAIN - Superintendent of Schools Nancy Sarra said there will be cuts made if the Board of Education doesn’t get the $5 million in additional money it has requested for 2019-20.
“We will have to make cuts of $5 million, and how do you cut when you’re already at the marrow?” Sarra asked after her budget request presentation.
The Board of Education officially kicked off budget season Monday when it received Sarra’s requested 2019-20 operating budget of $130,710,625.
The total represents a $5,010,625 increase, 3.99 percent, over the district’s current budget of $125.7 million.
Kevin Kane, chief financial officer for the school district, said most of the increases in the budget request are due to insurance, fringe benefit and contractual salary increases.
As Kane told the board in November, the school district slipped from 167th to 168th of 169 municipalities in the state in per-pupil expenditure in the 2017-2018 school year. The district has about 10,000 students.
If the board does not receive the additional $5 million, Sarra said, her cabinet has discussed possibly closing HALS Academy to save $1.1 million, Satellite Careers Academy to save $1.4 million and perhaps eliminating preschool busing.
Sarra also mentioned a possible “pay-for-play” plan for arts programs, band and sports.
“It’s dire - and don’t even ask me in the next year if it happens again,” Sarra said of flat-funding the school district.
Sarra even alluded to tax increases if necessary to provide the district the money it requests.
“I’ve got an 85-year-old father who is willing to say ‘Raise the taxes if we know it’s going toward education,” Sarra said. “I don’t think that there’s a family in town that wouldn’t say they want what’s best for their sons or daughters.”
Several board members addressed the budget request and what they hope the Common Council does with it. Board Vice President Nick Mercier said the school district’s percentage of tax revenue the city receives has dwindled in recent years. He suggested possibly splitting Grand List percentage increases between the Board of Education and City Hall.
“We’re not asking for everything. Even if you look at the average increase of $4 to 5 million every year that the city has seen in new taxes - if we got 40 percent of that or half of that, we would be where we need to be,” Mercier said.
Board member Jim Sanders Jr. said a pay-for-play plan would decimate the city’s sports programs.
He said he’s always been critical of the lack of communication between the Board of Education and Common Council, even when he was on the council, and said it’s important the two bodies come to the table this budget season.
Board member Violet Jimenez Sims said City Hall needs to pick up some of the slack in funding. The district is given the 7th-highest amount of Education Cost Sharing money from the state.
“The city of New Britain’s kids are all of ours, and if we don’t pay for what they need now, we’re going to pay in the long run,” Sims said.
The last time the Board of Education received a budget increase was when it got a $2.5 million increase from the 2015-2016 fiscal year to the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Last June, the Board of Education adopted a budget of $125.7 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year, the same amount it was allotted in 2017-18. Sarra had asked for at least $2.5 million in additional money from the school district’s 2017-18 budget.
An amended version of the current budget proposed by Common Council Democrats would have given more than $400,000 in additional money to the district, but it was vetoed by Mayor Erin Stewart.
Republican Alderman Robert Smedley attended Monday’s meeting to watch the board’s budget presentation and said he appreciated that operation expenses were “kept in check.” He had concerns, though, about contractual raises that account for much of the budget request increases.
‘What I struggle with is that they haven’t been able to have better negotiations to wrangle in the increases in the contracts, because that is essentially what’s hurting them,” Smedley said.
Smedley said he is concerned that several new, full-time positions were included in the budget presentation. The alderman also didn’t like the mention of increasing taxes in the city.
“I think we’re at a point where everybody citywide needs to work within the means that we have at this point,” Smedley said.
Still, he said he was thankful the board was respectful in its budget request. He said he hopes to see the mayor’s office, the Common Council, the Board of Education and the superintendent’s office come together and discuss their budgetary concerns.
“I respect everybody’s opinion and now we all need to work together,” Smedley said.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.