School board scrutinizes $165.4M budget proposal
Published 6:45 am, Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Board of Education members took a closer look Tuesday at Superintendent of Schools David Title’s $165.4 million budget proposed for 2016-17, posing questions on topics ranging from staff and maintenance expenses to costs of state mandates — a forum that drew only one comment from the public.
The budget proposed for the fiscal year, as proposed by Title, would rise 2.6 percent over this year’s spending of $160.8 million.
“There were some commonalities in the questions that the board members sent in,” Title said, including many relating to the new health insurance program projected to reduce costs to the district.
“The impact on the Board of Ed savings is almost $3.5 million, which is the $3.349 (million) under the Board of Ed operating budget and the ($142,000) further down under grants, which is also a savings to us,” explained Doreen Munsell, director of finance and business services.
Officials in neighboring schools districts are eager to know how Fairfield was able to switch health insurance coverage so quickly, Title said, adding it was done “much faster than most places could do it.”
“I think Doreen’s been flooded with inquiries,” he said, noting that the state gave a presentation at a meeting of the superintendents’ association last year on the new State of Connecticut Partnership Plan 2.0, which drew interest.
“We took the step of going to each of the unions to make sure they were on board with this,” board Chairman Philip Dwyer said.
While Title said it was contractually within school officials’ right to switch health-insurance plans it deemed comparable, he felt it would be better to get the district’s seven employee bargaining units on board beforehand. “We engaged our employees in examining this … answered all their questions,” he said, also working to avoid potential union grievances that would have drawn out the process.
“We worked on it collaboratively and, as a result, we have an outcome that saves the district $3.5 million … and as a result we end up in a really good place as quickly as possible,” he said.
Board member Eileen Liu-McCormack raised a question about the 2.2 percent increase for transportation in the new budget. “We have seen a huge decrease in the price of fuel,” she said, as well as declining enrollment. “This is the year I would have thought I’d see a flat rate or a decrease in transportation costs.”
“While the student population has been declining at the elementary level … the net effect is that we need to run the same number of busses that we do each year,” Title said, adding that there’s a 2.5 percent increase in the district’s school bus contract and a need for additional special education transportation.
In response to Liu-McCormack’s suggestion that a consultant be considered to examine transportation costs, Title said, “We’ve actually done that a couple of times. I know we did that when the contract went out to bid … two or three years ago.”
Those consultant findings included installing new computer software, which Title said offcials hope to get in place sometime soon to potentially map savings on bus route planning.
Only one member of the public, Suzanne Miska, addressed the school board. “I would like to see a curriculum review of the math program,” she said, before the district purchases new textbooks at the elementary level.
Questions about math assessment were also raised by member John Llewellyn, who said he does not favor switching the district from the current iReady program to STAR.
“I guess my concern here is we will not have consecutive years for the same assessment,” he said.
“Both iReady and STAR are aligned in the Common Core…” said Margaret Boice, director of secondary education. “We would not be switching to STAR if we thought there was going to be a disruption in monitoring math.”