Fairfield superintendent’s budget calls for 6.2% increase

Students arrive for the first day of school in Fairfield, Ct., Monday morning, August 30, 2021.

Students arrive for the first day of school in Fairfield, Ct., Monday morning, August 30, 2021.

Carol Kaliff / For Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — Calling it a statement of the district’s values, Superintendent of Schools Mike Cummings presented a $204 million operation budget for the 2022-2023 school year on Tuesday night.

“You really are putting your money where your mouth is,” he said.

The proposed budget is a 6.2 percent, or approximately $12 million, increase over this current school year’s budget, according to the proposal.

Cummings said the growth primarily comes from increases in the demand for special education services, higher maintenance supplies and fuel costs, contractual increases in staff salaries and benefits and investment in core infrastructure.

He also noted the town is transferring $320,000 in costs to the district this coming budget, including crossing guard services and salt for de-icing.

Of the 2.93 percent increase in operations funding, $2.8 million of the cost comes from contractual obligations for staffing, while the hiring of new staff is projected to cost $1.1 million.

By far the biggest additional cost is a growth in the special education services, which accounts for approximately $5 million of the budget increase. Cummings later said the increase was the outcome of the district’s desire to raise special education funding to a more appropriate level in the coming year, so it could have a better handle on it in future years.

“The pandemic has had a profound impact on the social/emotional, and learning needs of many of our students,” according to the budget presentation. “Our staff has worked tirelessly to address these needs at all levels and in general and special education. Despite these efforts, the needs continue to grow. The special education budget increase reflects outplacement tuition, transportation, and services changes.”

Replacing information technology equipment and buying instructional supplies, such as math text books, account for more than $1 million in the budget increase.

Some aspects of the budget increase are the result of the district’s efforts to address an achievement gap between Black and Hispanic students and white and Asian students. The district’s proposed budget includes funding for a family and community liaison, which was noted in the following a report that detailed the disparities between the subgroups of students.

Cummings said the position will strengthen the schools’ relationships with children and their families by visiting the homes of current or potential students and working with families to help them in a variety of ways. He said it would promote families involvement in educating their children.

“If we can invest in reaching our parents better, and help them feel more connected to the school system, we’ll see more corresponding increases — both in student participation and engagement, attendance and, ultimately, achievement,” he said.

Cummings noted the board would meet multiple times throughout the month of January as they work through the budget process with a Board of Education budget town hall scheduled for Jan. 28.

“We’ll be looking very closely in the months to come at this structural change in facilities and maintenance and operation concerns that confront our school system,” he said. “We are eager to participate in that work, because we know in the long run it’s going to lead to an improved learning experience for all of our kids, a better instructional experience for our staff and a stronger, more resilient school system.”

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com