School board backs $149.5M budget with no changes
The Board of Education on Tuesday night adopted Superintendent of Schools David Title's proposed 2012-13 operating budget of nearly $150 million, along with a $2 million request for capital improvement projects, without making any modifications.
"I'd just like to thank the board and the board members individually and collectively for your support of the budget and your thoughtful consideration and understanding of the difficult choices we had to make in bringing it to you," Title said after the board cast its unanimous vote approving the budget and capital requests.
More than two weeks ago, Title last week presented the board with a spending request of $149,464,941, an increase of 2.6 percent from this fiscal year's approved expenditures of $145.2 million.
The school spending package now moves on to review -- and possible cuts -- by First Selectmen Michael Tetreau, followed by the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting before the final figure is adopted. The 2012-13 budget takes effect with the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
Prior to the board's unanimous vote to adopt the spending request, board member Sue Brand moved to amend the motion with the deduction of $123,420 for elementary clerical staff to transfer $94,227 to the sixth-grade world languages program and use the remaining funds for clerical staff at Title's discretion. Her motion failed, however, by a 4-5 vote.
Board member Perry Liu spoke in favor of Brand's motion, while board member John Convertito spoke against it, explaining that the elementary clerical staff will be needed to offset the proposed elimination of paraprofessionals at the elementary level.
"My fear is that without that paraprofessional support, there's a workload there that will simply will not and cannot be addressed," he said.
Meredith McCormack, a PTA budget representative for Sherman Elementary School, expressed support for the additional clerical help to be available for students after the regular school day has ended and perform clerical duties.
Resident Suzanne Miska said she was disappointed with various aspects of the budget process, including that the public could not comment until right before the board was poised to vote on adopting the budget.
Roughly half of the proposed hike to this year's budget results from staff salary increases, excluding benefits, rising $2.1 million to almost $98.2 million from this year's allocation of just over $96 million.
Almost $800,000 of the increase is for 9.2 full-time special education teaching positions as part of a proposed new special education staff model at the elementary level, a math resource teacher for each of the three middle schools and 1.2 math teaching jobs at the high school level to handle growing enrollment.
Title proposed offsetting the increase with cutbacks in other areas of the proposed salaries budget, such as eliminating 13.6 paraprofessional jobs for a reduction of $337,121 as part of the special education model. In exchange, additional certified support staff would be brought on at an additional cost of $111,526.
Title proposed reducing of the number of paraprofessionals because a large number of fifth-grade special education students will move on to middle school next year, according to Andrea Leonardi, director of special education and pupil services.
The spending request also includes higher allocations in these areas:
a hike of $950,000, or 4.7 percent, for staff benefits.
an increase of $563,430, or 8.03 percent, for student transportation.
an uptick of $99,309, or 5 percent, to instructional services.
an increase of $240,000 -- to $590,000 -- for overtime for additional staff needed at school facilities during evenings and weekends.
Proposed capital projects approved by the board include $791,400 in replacing windows at Osborn Hill Elementary School at a cost of $791,400; replacing two boilers at Dwight Elementary School at a cost of $294,000, and performing front facade cornice work at Tomlinson School at a cost of $250,000.
The school board's proposed budget had to be filed with town officials by Feb. 1 so that the selectmen and finance board members can discuss the capital requests Feb. 16.