Fairfield School District proposes nearly $10M budget increase

In a Tuesday night meeting, Superintendent of Schools Mike Cummings presented a $194,316,444 budget for the 2021-2022 school year to the Board of Education.

In a Tuesday night meeting, Superintendent of Schools Mike Cummings presented a $194,316,444 budget for the 2021-2022 school year to the Board of Education.

/ Josh LaBella

FAIRFIELD — The school district is proposing a 5.3 percent increase, or $9.8 million more, in the upcoming budget, but officials say a chunk of this is because they can no longer pull from savings to cover certain costs.

Of the proposed $194.3 million budget for 2021-2022, about $2.55 million is currently paid for with savings from when the school closed in March last year due to the coronavirus.

“In the spring of last year, when we were finalizing the 2020-2021 budget, we already knew that, from the 2019-2020 budget, we had unexpended funds of $3.6 million,”said Andrea Clark, the district’s communications director. “That was because we had shut down the district.”

That $3.6 million was put into a non-lapsing account that the district could pull from for the current school year, with $2.1 million allotted for COVID-related expenses.

“We’ve spent that and then some,” Clark said of the $2.1 million.

The remaining $1.52 million could be used for maintenance costs.

The district also didn’t use all of its transportation funding last year due to the pandemic, which could be applied toward the current school year.

“We had a little over a million dollar credit from the bus company,” Clark said. “We applied that credit for transportation this year ”

But while most of these expenses are still there, those savings from the last school year are not and so the district has to factor them into their operating budget.

If these costs were factored out, Clark said, this proposed budget would look more like a 3.9 percent increase.

“But, these are real dollars that we need,” she said. “So we have to be honest and say it’s a 5.32 percent increase. But we wanted to remind the board that the reason we are asking for what looks like a steep increase is because of what the board and the town agreed to last year.”

According to the budget proposal, the budget also calls for a 1.68 percent increase in benefits and a 1.22 percent increase in salary spending — which Clark said the district doesn’t have control over due to contracts.

Other areas of the budget that saw increase, such as tuition, supplies and materials and contracted services, call for an increase of 0.81 percent.

The Board of Education is set to have budget meetings on Jan. 19 and 26 with a vote expected Jan. 28. A budget town hall is set for the next day.

In a statement, First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said she was notified of the budget increase on Tuesday.

“It’s a really large number, nearly $10 million more than this year’s budget,” she said. “We're going to have to sit down and take a hard look at the details and identify some ways to save the taxpayers from a large tax increase. I look forward to having these conversations as we move forward in the budget process.”

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com