NEWINGTON - School Superintendent Bill Collins has released his $73 million school budget, reflecting a 3.96 percent increase over this past year’s allocation.
The bitter pill is a $1.2 million reserve fund balance used to prevent layoffs of special education staff in 2017, which must be made up for in the 2018-19 budget cycle if the town wants to retain staffing.
“Most layoffs were avoided by using the reserve account which now has a $5 balance,” the superintendent said. “The 17–18 layoffs/reductions will need to be made unless resources are adjusted.”
Budget review sessions began in November and staff submitted their funding requests to the administration in December, totaling a 13.8 percent increase.
Collins eliminated new initiatives and presented a budget that meets the district’s basic needs and fulfills state requirements.
“Tonight’s recom-mendation falls in the middle of a range of “best case”, and “worst case” scenarios,” he explained. “The numbers inside the budget books represent “the middle” based on information available to us today.”
The schools cannot function with less than a 2.99 percent increase, Collins said.
Contributing to the proposed increase are an expulsion mandate ($150K), deferred maintenance ($700K) the yet-to-open N.H.S. biomedical and aerospace academies ($183K) and contractual salaries and benefits ($1.65 mil.)
“The new expulsion mandate must be included in the budget,” Collins told the board. “The cost to outplace students would be almost $400,000. We can provide a much more cost-effective program in the district, however a facility is needed as well as funding for staff. We believe we can provide programming for $150,000. One of these two numbers must be funded to achieve compliance.”
The year’s other priorities include increasing access to early childhood education and the number of students who are proficient in two or more languages, as well as optimizing the integration of technology into instruction and continuing support for the arts, athletics and student activities.
The budget does not reflect the year’s unknown factors, like how many school-aged families will move to town and require services. Unexpected state mandates may also require immediate implementation post budget-adoption.
About 80 percent of the budget is due to employee staffing, salary and benefits. This does not include the one-year positions funded through the contingency account.
If funding is not met, layoffs will occur.
Collins recommended that CIP funding earmarked for school bus replacement be redirected toward the construction of a new school bus garage in another location.
“New garage facilities would remove the busy bus operations from the park area and provide a more pleasant experience for residents,” he said. “Indoor storage would also reduce the annual replacement cost by over $200,000.
The Board of Education is expected to present its proposal to the Town Council on March 6.
“Our goal is to provide a quality education knowing we’re in the balance of what the town can afford to spend,” Board Chairman Josh Shulman said. “We are trying to get back on track where we’re holding steady. Hopefully we can work with the town council to make that happen.”
The council will set its tentative budget on March 27, with a public hearing April 3, followed by the final budget adoption April 17.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or email@example.com.