School board makes local budget cuts, waits on state aid info
FAIRFIELD — The Board of Education on Tuesday approved adjustments to its $163.6 million budget for 2016-17 to reflect reductions made by town boards, but has yet to deal with the expected loss of state education aid.
The Board of Selectmen earlier cut $455,000 from funding for supplemental elementary school teachers, while the first selectman cut $980,000 and the Board of Selectmen cut another $800,000 from the school district’s health insurance account. The Board of Finance later restored $250,000 to the health insurance account, and the Representative Town Meeting earlier this month gave final approval to an education budget reflecting those changes.
Superintendent of Schools David Title recommended the locally approved cuts be taken from the accounts recommended by the other boards, although he could have taken the money from other areas of the school budget.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said Tuesday that the latest cut to Fairfield’s state aid appears to be about $2.3 million. The bulk of that will come from the Education Cost Sharing grant, but since the RTM has already given final approval to the budget budget, the town cannot legally force the school board to reduce its budget further.
Title, however, said he expects the Board of Education will do its part to help accommodate the expected shortfall.
“We will play ball,” Title said, “but I need to wait and see another month of the insurance experience. I want a little more clarity on the insurance surplus before I commit to anything.”
Title said if the school district’s health insurance account maintains its positive performance, it is possible the additional money could be found there.
He told board members he continues to have discussions with the town about the impending aid reduction, but assured them “we would participate and we would be a good partner in this with the town.”
In response to a question from board member John Llewelyn, Title said the school administration will “manage” to the final budget number, as it does every year. If transfers between accounts are needed at the end of the year, those transfers would be brought to the board for approval.
“We’re going to be flexible with it,” Title said. “We manage the budget every year to the bottom line, and at the end of the year, we bring you the transfers, the same as it’s always been.”
When the finance board set the tax rate for the new fiscal year, Chairman Thomas Flynn said it looked as though the hole in the overall 2016-17 budget won’t be $2.3 million as once feared, but more likely about $1.1 million because of several factors, including an improved tax-collection rate, the good standing of health insurance accounts, and additional motor vehicle revenue.
In addition, Flynn said, the town has run a substantial surplus in its operating budget in past years, and that appears to be the case once again, with what appears to be a surplus of well over $1 million in the current budget.
“As with all projections, these are based on best available information/estimates that are subject to change over time,” Flynn said. “Let's remember, the state's numbers are not finalized either. Budgets are never done with absolute certainty and, oftentimes, require management decisions and the ability to adapt to changing variables, many of which are beyond control of management. We have seen this several times in the past years with the town.”