School board questions proposed 5% budget hike
Superintendent of Schools David Title fielded questions and comments Tuesday from the Board of Education about his proposed operating budget of $156.2 million for 2013-14 during the panel's first public review of the requested allocation made public last week.
Title last week presented the school board with a proposed spending package of $156,171,651, a 4.86 increase over this year's budget of $148.9 million. Rising health insurance costs account for three-quarters of the $7.2 million spike.
Board member Tim Kery handed out a table he prepared showing that Fairfield taxpayers would each pay almost $62,000 in yearly taxes in 2052 if the school budget were to increase 4.5 percent every year versus almost $23,500 a year in taxes were it to escalate 2 percent annually.
"One of the things I'd like to know from our fellow board members is where we'd like to be as a community 20, 30, 40 years from now," he said, prompting board members to discuss the topics of income, staff salaries and benefits.
Vice Chairwoman Pamela Iacono said the message she is hearing is that the town cannot support this level of yearly growth in the school budget.
"We need to figure out what kind of programming we're going to be able to offer and I think there's things that we're going to have to look at and make some difficult decisions," she said. "I don't know that we're going to be able to maintain the level of service we've been able to provide going forward. I just don't think the money's there anymore."
The board also discussed the number of civic and private organizations in Fairfield that are exempt from fees when they use school buildings.
"That's town revenue that's not collected," Title said.
Board member John Convertito said nonprofits that use school facilities should pay for the custodial overtime fees, which are now paid for by the school district.
During a discussion of employee benefits, for which $22 million out of $26.7 million proposed is earmarked for health insurance, Kery said the Board of Selectmen should provide up-to-date information on the town's employee health insurance experience instead of through June 2012. This would help the board decide how much to contribute to a medical retention fund it shares with the town, he said.
Spending on staff salaries in the superintendent's proposed budget takes up over 60 percent of the request at $98.9 million, an increase of almost $811,000 over this year's amount.
The proposed budget also includes $1.7 million in capital projects, a 40 percent uptick over this year's allotment of $1.2 million. Of the amount requested for next year, $1.45 million is earmarked for technology upgrades.
Another $558,000 is being requested for 23 maintenance projects for 2013-14, $100,000 of which would go toward installing two low-lying drains in the cafeteria at Tomlinson Middle School. The entire amount is being asked for as part of a request of $8,772,287 for operations and maintenance of buildings, down 2.58 percent from last year's appropriation of $9,004,889.
The school board plans to continue its discussion of the proposed budget at a meeting slated for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, in its second-floor conference room at 501 Kings Highway East.
The board expects to adopt the superintendent's proposed budget at a regular meeting scheduled for Jan. 29. The spending request will then be sent to the boards of Finance and Selectmen for review before being adopted into the town's overall budget by the Representative Town Meeting in May.
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