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School board OKs $155.8M budget with few cuts

Updated 12:45 pm, Wednesday, January 30, 2013
  • Mark Halstead, a resident of Crest Terrace, was one of many Fairfield residents to comment Tuesday night on the school superintendent's proposed budget for next year. An architect, he said the board needs to put educational programs before considering spending $23 million to renovate Fairfield Ludlowe High School, referring to a discussion of an earlier agenda item on educational specifications for a proposed expansion and window replacement project at the school. Photo: Michael C. Juliano/Staff Photo
    Mark Halstead, a resident of Crest Terrace, was one of many Fairfield residents to comment Tuesday night on the school superintendent's proposed budget for next year. An architect, he said the board needs to put educational programs before considering spending $23 million to renovate Fairfield Ludlowe High School, referring to a discussion of an earlier agenda item on educational specifications for a proposed expansion and window replacement project at the school. Photo: Michael C. Juliano/Staff Photo

 

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A school bugdet of $155.8 million for 2013-14 was approved Tuesday by the Board of Education, which trimmed $342,000 from $156.2 million in spending initially proposed by Superintendent of Schools David Title.

The budget, referred to First Selectman Michael Tetreau for review, was approved by a vote of 7-2, with board members Perry Liu and Sue Brand casting the opposing votes.

The cuts totaling $342,417 included:

- eliminating allocations of $33,069 at the elementary-school level and $21,588 at the middle-school level

- deferring the replacement of computer monitors at a cost of $70,760

- implementing full-day kindergarten at a savings of $157,000 in transportation costs

- requiring the food service program assume its pension costs at a savings of $50,000

- increasing custodial fees for renting school facilities by 10 percent to gain $10,000 in revenue

At its Jan. 24 budget meeting, Title was asked to find areas to cut his proposed budget of $156,171,651 by a range of $500,000 to $1.5 million for consideration this week. He was also asked to consider reducing the proposed increase of 4.86 percent to this year's $148.9 million budget to 4 percent with $1.3 million in cuts.

At the meeting, Title proposed reducing the budget by $520,456 by instituting the aforementioned measures, in addition to removing 19.5 clerical hours per week and increasing parking fees at the high schools. He also suggested eliminating $260,110 in spending on capital equipment, which included deferring replacement of the computer monitors, Fairfield Ludlowe High School's Internet server for $125,000 and 99 desktop computers at the elementary schools for $64,350.

He also proposed a set of 19 cuts that would result in a reduction of over $1.8 million, including reducing music lessons at the middle schools for a savings of $285,000 and increasing athletic participation fees to $250 from $150 per sport for $250,000 in savings.

"I want to make it clear that I'm not recommending these (cuts) for a variety of reasons, but I also understand that the board asked for this," he said of the optional reductions.

He also gave a third option that would actually increase the budget by $329,600 by implementing extended-day kindergarten and eliminating secondary curriculum leader positions.

Prior to adoption of the budget, board member John Convertito put forth a motion to adopt Title's budget minus $157,000 by implementing full-day kindergarten district-wide due to a savings realized in transportation costs, $23,346 to eliminate the 19.5 clerical hours, $50,000 by food service paying its own pension costs and $10,000 by increasing custodial fees. Convertito's motion would have resulted in $240,346 in cuts and reduce the budget to $155,931,305.

Convertito said it would be "premature" at this time to make $1.5 million in cuts to school programs given the budget has not gone through the town board approval process and the town's insurance carrier has gone out to bid.

"These are draconian cuts that serve no purpose in the discussion," he said.

Board member Jennifer Kennelly amended the motion to put back the $23,346 for the clerical positions, bringing the budget up to $155,954,651.

Board member Paul Fattibene further amended the motion by adding $70,760 for the replacement of computer monitors within proposed $260,110 reduction to capital equipment.

Vice Chairwoman Pam Iacono also amended the motion by removing one fifth-grade music class at a savings of $30,000 and reducing allocations at the elementary and middle school levels for a total savings of $54,647.

"We have to make some reductions somewhere and I understand no one wants to do it," she said.

Convertito requested that spending on the one fifth-grade music class be put back into the budget, creating $342,417 in total cuts for a proposed budget of $155,829,234.

Many residents spoke on the superintendent's proposed budget before it was adopted by the board.

Seth Block, a resident of Shrub Oak Lane, said the board should come up with a reduction of 3 to 4 percent to Title's proposed budget, not 1 percent.

"Then you're doing your fiduciary responsibility," he said.

Matthew Hutzelmann of Pansy Road said the board should keep Title's proposed budget as is and let the other town boards make cuts, if any.

"I think you should not cut anything right now," he said.

Upon presenting his spending request to the board over a week ago, Title pointed out that three-quarters of the $7.2 million uptick was caused by escalating health insurance costs.

More than 60 percent of Title's proposed allocation was earmarked for staff salaries at $98.9 million, an increase of almost $811,000 over this year's amount.

His proposed budget also included $1.7 million in capital projects, a 40 percent increase over this year's request for $1.2 million. Of the amount requested for next year, $1.45 million is earmarked for technology upgrades.

Another $558,000 was requested for 23 maintenance projects for 2013-14, $100,000 of which would go toward installing two low-lying drains in the cafeteria at Tomlinson Middle School. The entire amount was asked for as part of a request of $8,772,287 for operations and maintenance of buildings, down 2.58 percent from last year's appropriation of $9,004,889.

After the budget was approved, Tim Kery asked that the board discuss ways to slow annual growth of the budget at a later meeting.

The board's spending request, after Tetreau's review, will be acted on by the Boards of Selectmen and Finance before being adopted as part of the town's overall budget by the Representative Town Meeting in May.

mjuliano@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 112; twitter.com/mjulianoadv