Fairfield schools budget reduction will ‘take some work’
FAIRFIELD — As the budget process makes its way through the three fund-approving town bodies, the Board of Selectmen got its hearing done the snow day of March 4.
In his proposed budget, First Selectman Mike Tetreau outlined a recommended a $317.8 million budget that would come with a 26.95 mill rate, or a 2.24 percent tax hike.
Tetreau’s recommendation came with a request that the Board of Education take out $700,000 from their approved budget, which came in at a 5 percent increase, amounting to a total ask of $182.3 million.
“It will take some work. There’s not a tremendous amount to look at without having an impact on instruction,” Superintendent Toni Jones said at the Monday meeting. “We would absolutely advocate to have the funds restored. ... We put forth a budget with unanimous support and it meets the needs of the school district.”
The schools budget for fiscal year 2019-20 — which also accounts for slightly more than half of the town’s total budget — is mostly allotted to contract increases, utilities and maintenance projects, according to Jones.
The Board of Selectmen, however, argued they didn’t see enough “structural change” in the schools budget.
“These types of increases, we’re not going to benefits from tax sales or grand list growth,” Selectman Ed Bateson said, regarding the 5 percent budget increase.
Reduced aid from the state to Fairfield schools has also been a worry. The town saw a reduction of $2.5 million in Educational Cost Sharing funds in recent years.
Tetreau noted the Board of Education and the town should coordinate better joint-planning sessions, particularly when it comes to salary and contract negotiations for upcoming years, as it’s one of the largest drivers in the schools budget.
“I certainly believe teachers deserve to get fairly paid. It’s how we structure that,” Tetreau said. “It creates an escalation in the salary line ... and that being one of the largest increases per year that’s going on, it certainly drives our tax increase.”
Jones said most positions were part of the special education programs, and that enrollment increases in the high school led to searches for certified teachers in those areas.
“We want to make sure we stay in compliance,” Jones said. “Not adding any staff at the beginning of the year is challenging. ... This is driven by class size and numbers we can’t predict.”
Last year, the town took out a combined $520,000 for sidewalk maintenance and asphalt paving in an effort to accommodate the education budget. This year, work can no longer be postponed to those public works projects.
The Board of Selectmen will hold budget deliberations March 11 at 9 a.m. and are scheduled to issue a vote on the budget March 13 at a 4 p.m. meeting. Both of these meetings will not allow for public comment.
The Board of Finance begins their budget hearings March 14 with a presentation from Tetreau. There is an annual public budget forum scheduled for March 30 at 9:30 a.m. that Fairfield residents are invited to attend.
The Board of Finance is scheduled to vote on the budget April 3.
The Representative Town Meeting will hold budget hearings throughout the month of April and is scheduled for a vote May 6.
Tetreau said the budget hearing had been a “healthy discussion” and that there will be follow-up items discussed at next week’s sessions.