Proposed school budget up 3.75 percent; Clark explains rationale
Try as they did to keep the numbers as low as possible, school officials presented to the public Tuesday afternoon a superintendent recommended budget that represents a 3.75 percent increase over the current year.
Superintendent of Schools Ann Clark hosted a Brown Bag Luncheon at the Board of Education offices and parents, residents, a couple of Board of Education members and one young child attended the event.
"We worked extremely hard," Clark said of the budget that totals $144,796,425. She added that teachers and administrators agreed to a zero percent increase in salaries in order to help with the budget and that "we held the line in the area of maintenance and we held the line in the area of technology."
However, similar results couldn't be achieved in regard to staffing. Bonnie McWain, director of finance for Fairfield Public Schools, said there will be a staff increase of 31.6 and added that a significant amount of money is going toward providing benefit packages. The additional staff, in a hand-out provided to the public and media, totals $1.2 million and represents a 0.87 percent increase over this year's budget. Last year, town boards didn't approve any new staff. School officials are hoping for a change of heart this budget season.
Fourteen fewer students are expected at the elementary level but a 64-student increase is predicted for the middle school grades and 76 more students are expected to be in high school, according to Jack Boyle, deputy superintendent of schools. Of the latter, 54 more students are expected at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, nine at Fairfield Warde and 13 at the alternative high school.
Clark said that a zero percent budget increase was simply not feasible.
"We are education advocates," she said. "That is not something we can bring to the Board of Education. We were fiscally responsible, but this was something we felt was needed."
First Selectman Ken Flatto, when reached for a comment on the budget, did not want to go into detail, as not to speak ahead of Board of Education review. However, he did note that the budget "was higher than we expected and it is somewhat problematic."
The proposed budget would have come in at $145,308,593 (a 4.12 percent increase over the current year) had it not been for $512,168 in SFSF funding (a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) the district will receive, as it did this year. Move forward costs alone make up $127,618,244 of the overall budget total. The move forward increase was $2,591,408, or 2.07 percent.
Taking a closer look
One area in the superintendent's recommended budget that shows no increase in medical benefits.
"We [the town and the Fairfield Public Schools] are self-insured," said McWain. "At this time, we feel that we will have sufficient funds available in the Board of Education medical retention fund to offset any potential increases."
The request for a capital budget expenditure for technology totals $1,277,078. The breakdown is as follows: install 32 Smart Boards and projectors throughout the district (part of a long-term technology plan, which was deferred from 2009-10); install multi-media projectors at Fairfield Ludlowe High School; replace 594 of 859 computers acquired from 2002 on (this was also deferred); replace 105 laptop computers acquired in 2003 and distribute them to the elementary schools and administrators; install a wireless plan (year two of three) at the middle schools; and continue replacement of the network LAN (local area network) switches at all schools.
The current switches, according to school officials, do not adequately support instructional programs such as digital content and streaming media at the speeds and bandwidth required. The curriculum leaders are acquiring licensing to download content, which will replace DVDs and other hard copy media, saving the district money over time, according to Tuesday's budget breakdown hand-out.
As for the special education section of the budget, approximately $1 million is being requested. Nearly three-quarters of that figure is a result of a decrease in state reimbursement, according to Andrea Leonardi, director of special education and pupil services.
Separate from the budget, the school district is hoping for approval of $2.3 million for plumbing work in the bathrooms of Dwight Elementary School; security and safety work at Stratfield Elementary School; replacement of stairwell treads and risers at Tomlinson Middle School; major window replacement at Fairfield Ludlowe High School; and boiler replacement at Fairfield Woods Middle School. The most expensive of the aforementioned projects is the window replacement at Fairfield Ludlowe High School (FLHS), estimated at $1.5 million.
Today at 7:30 p.m., at the BOE offices at 501 Kings Highway E., Clark will present her budget to the Board of Education. The board will further discuss the budget on Jan. 26 and Jan. 28.