Schools bear brunt of selectmen’s budget ax
Updated 3:22 am, Thursday, March 31, 2016
FAIRFIELD — After nearly five hours of discussion Tuesday, the Board of Selectmen trimmed the proposed 2016-17 budget from $294.3 to $293 million, with most of that reduction cut from the school board’s $163.7 million spending plan.
The Board of Finance meets Thursday for its review, and expected vote, on the spending package for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The selectmen agreed to cut $800,000 from the Board of Education’s internal services fund, and sliced $455,000 slated for unexpected “extra” teachers that might be needed depending on enrollment during the next school year,
If the cuts stand following final approval of the budget by the Represenatative Town Meeting later this spring, the school board is not required to make the spending adjustments as recommended by the selectmen.
According to town officials, based on the experience of the last three months, health insurance claims, which are paid out of the school district’s internal service fund, are less than expected, leaving about $1 million in surplus in the fund.
Selectman Chris Tymniak said the reduction still leaves a small cushion in the account. “I feel comfortable with that,” said Selectman Laurie McArdle. “If we can take the money off the table for the taxpayer this year, that’s a good thing.”
First Selectman Michaal Tetreau agreed the cut would not have a direct impact on students or staffing.
Tymniak also proposed the $455,000 cut for “extra” teachers, saying that funding seven extra teachers, while also budgeting for savings that result from teachers who will retire, is a “double” contingency.
He said money saved by retiring teachers should be able to fund any additional teachers who may be needed if elementary class enrollment rises over the size guidelines.
“We didn’t build a cushion into this,” Superintendent of Schools David Title said.
Tymniak also proposed cutting $210,000 from the Department of Public Works operations budget, which was to pay for a six-wheel dump truck. He said the town has bonding in place to buy a new truck, and there is a second one in the budget. “This is one of the items we have to look at hard,” he said.
Tetreau argued that town boards had asked for, and received, a truck-replacement plan from public works and that plan calls for four trucks to be replaced every year. “This is the definition of kicking the can down the road,” Tetreau said. He voted against the cut, but it was approved by a 2-1 vote of the Republican selectmen.
Another cut proposed by Tymniak was $125,000 to the heart and hypertension account, which is money paid to eligible firefighters, police officers and their widowed spouses. Tymniak said the reduction leaves the account at the five-year average for payouts. The reduction was approved.
While he voted for the majority of the cuts, Tetreau could not support his fellow board members when they voted to cut $12,000 from the library’s materials account. “This is in no way a reflection on my feelings on the library,” McArdle said, when making the motion for the cut.
But, she said, budget constraints make the decrease necessary, and still leaves the account at the prior year’s funding.
“The library, for the last five years, has been significantly under-funded on materials,” Tetreau said, and only last year was brought back to its previous $600,000 level.