NEWINGTON - A $71.9 million request for the Board of Education’s 2017-18 fiscal year offers the bare minimum in school funding.
Superintendent of Schools Bill Collins’ budget represents the least possible increase of $1.7 million, or a 2.49 percent hike over current spending. While the board ordinarily makes its own cuts after the Town Council votes on spending in early April, Collins decided to take the reins ahead of schedule this year.
His goal was to strike a balance between burdening the taxpayers and maintaining academic excellence.
“Our budget balances the goal of a high quality education with the tough economic realities faced by many taxpayers,” Collins said. “This carefully crafted spending plan succeeds in striking that balance. My positive and creative team worked hard to find spending reductions and deferrals while at the same time preserving programs and academic excellence.”
Contentious deliberations between elected officials and the public last year brought budget negotiations into late April. Board members halfheartedly eliminated the gifted program and summer school, delayed starting the high school’s biomedical sciences program and cut four employees. A contingency account was set up to prevent 14 additional layoffs, and these teachers were told their jobs wouldn’t be guaranteed next year.
Collins’ recent proposal allows this group to retain their positions.
Between their salaries, raises to administrators who agreed to a deadlock freeze the last two years, and special education costs, the district was looking at an over 3 percent increase due to mandates alone. To limit this, staff identified $675,442 in savings and deferrals, reducing spending in 24 different areas, including maintenance, new technology and social studies materials. They did not propose any new positions or initiatives.
“I didn’t want there to be anything extra in my budget so I cut it down to the point where there was nothing left,” Collins explained. “This means there’s absolutely no room for negotiation. The next cuts would be layoffs. That’s how far down the line we are.”
Staff requests and proposals totaled a 10.71 percent increase. Among them were social workers and digital labs at the middle schools and reinstating gifted and summer course programming.
One STEM teaching position at the high school academy will be delayed and the district will also be giving up its accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) at the elementary and junior-high levels. This may sound drastic but it’s not, Collins said.
“We were the first school district in Connecticut to have all of its schools accredited and one of only three right now that do,” he pointed out. “This really won’t have any impact. We’re just going to join the pack.”
The organization’s complex accreditation process requires a yearly inspection, costing around $10,000.
Gov. Dannel Malloy has said Educational Cost Sharing funding will be fairer and more flexible this year. Towns that receive a funding increase will be allowed to maintain their fiscal year 2017 minimum budget requirement. Towns that see a decrease in their state allotment can reduce their minimum budget requirement by the difference in funding. It is unclear at this time how much Newington’s share will be.
The district’s health insurance costs have decreased by $137,000 over this past year and the town is set to receive a $1.2 million rebate for health benefits, according to Dr. Collins. The board is likely to use this money to fund deferred items, such as technology and maintenance, he said.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or email@example.com.