Title unveils $160.8M school budget proposal with 3.3% hike
Published 7:37 am, Wednesday, January 14, 2015
A $160.8 million education budget for fiscal year 2015-16 -- 3.3 percent higher than current spending of $155.7 million -- was proposed Tuesday by Superintendent of Schools David Title.
Title's proposed budget, an increase of $5.13 million, will be reviewed by the Board of Education on Jan. 20 and 27, with a vote scheduled Jan. 29. The budget adopted by the Board of Education will then be incorporated into First Selectman Michael Tetreau's proposed townside budget for 2015-16, and will be subject to votes by the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance in March, followed by a final vote by the Representative Town Meeting in May.
"Three budget categories account for virtually the entire increase -- salary, benefits, utilities," Title said to the school board and about 50 members of the public during Tuesday night's meeting at the Education Center. "There's not a lot of controllable stuff there."
"Really, when you get right down to it, it's all about labor costs," he added.
Staff salaries rise from $99.2 million in the current budget to $101.4 million, an increase of $2.1 million, or 2.15 percent, while benefits for school board employees rise from $23.9 million in the current budget to $26.3 million, an increase of $2.3 million, or 9.71 percent. Of the proposed 3.29 percent increase proposed for 2015-16, salaries and benefits, taken together, account for 2.86 percent, according to a budget book distributed Tuesday night.
The utility services account, which falls under the category of operations and maintenance of buildings in the proposed budget, rises from $4.03 million this fiscal year to a proposed $4.6 million in 2015-16, an increase of $593,053, or 14.7 percent.
Title's proposed budget calls for the equivalent of 12.4 additional staff members -- 1.5 certified, or teachers, and 10.9 non-certified. He said the proposed staffing increase, from 1,452 to 1,464.40, would be less than 1 percent.
The Board of Education's budget, over the past six years, has grown by an average of 1.84 percent a year, according to Title.
In the past 10 years, enrollment in Fairfield's public schools grew 10.5 percent, but the increase in staff members, most of whom have been teachers, rose 6.8 percent, Title said. He said the number of school administrators in the past 10 years has been "virtually flat." Enrollment, as of last Oct. 1, was 10,160 and is projected to grow by 17 students, to 10,177, in the next academic year, Title said.
Fairfield's per pupil expenditure in the past 10 years had fallen from 24th to 69th in the state, and now is the second lowest in southern Fairfield County, Title said. He said the average per pupil expenditure in southern Fairfield County was $17,541, while Fairfield's is $15,185. "We continue to be efficient," he said. "We continue to be economical with our resources."
The school districts in that comparison from 2013-14 were in Trumbull, Norwalk, Stamford, Wilton, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Weston and Greenwich. Only Trumbull's per pupil expenditure, at $14,506, was lower than Fairfield's, according to the budget book.
During his power point presentation, Title also outlined initiatives to be funded through the 2015-16 budget, which include:
- Preserving the school district's instructional program.
- Addressing state mandates and initiatives, such as teacher and administrator evaluation plans, new assessments of student performance and Common Core standards.
- Enhancing the World Language Program by increasing instructional time in sixth grade and buying new textbooks.
- Revising the Social Studies curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12.
- Implementing a new high school schedule.
- Funding a graduate follow-up survey.
- Eliminating "pay to participate" for high school sports.
- Enhancing support for special education students and increasing psychological support for students.
- Strengthening supervision of the Alternative High School.
- Increasing professional development opportunities for teachers.
- Continuing investments in technology and major maintenance projects.
Title said the power point presentation on his proposed 2015-16 education budget, and the proposed budget itself, was expected to be posted on the school board's website by noon Wednesday. That website is www.fairfieldschools.org.
Board of Education Chairman Philip Dwyer said the panel, at future meetings on Title's proposed budget, would first discuss health insurance and pension plans for school board employees.