Title proposes $165.4M school budget with 2.6% increase
A $165.4 million education budget proposed for 2016-17, with a 2. 6 percent increase, was unveiled Tuesday by Superintendent of Schools David Title.
Title detailed his $165,393,561 spending package — $4,177,921 more than this year’s budget of $160.8 million — to the Board of Education and about 75 members of the public. The proposed budget, which the panel expects to vote on later this month, then faces review by other town boards before final action by the Representative Town Meeting in the spring. The new budget will take effect July 1.
A notable factor in the budget proposal, he said, is a projected $3.5 million reduction in insurance expenses. “We’ve been working very hard on the possibility of changing our health insurance (and) I am really pleased to tell you that we have made a major savings there,” Title said, touting the change to the State of Connecticut Partnership Plan 2.0.
“We’ll be changing all eligible employees over to this plan,” he said, which will maintain equivalent insurance coverage and was approved by unions representing school district employees.
“Savings in health insurance is a phrase I never thought I would say in front of this board and that you as a board never thought you would hear,” he said, noting the district is not only being spared a $2 million increase that had been expected under its current coverage plans, but should realize a $1.5 million cost reduction. “This is a cost avoidance of $3.5 million,” he said.
Consequently, Title was able to outline a number of new initiatives that he is proposing in next year’s budget, referencing the second year of implementing the District Improvement Plan’s core strategies.
“We are fortunate this year to be able to insert quite a few instructional program improvements,” he said. “There’s quite a long list so this is good news,” including revising social studies and computer literacy curriculums, upgrading the middle school music keyboard program, and expansion of Spanish instruction into the third grades.
A range of staff development initiatives will also be put in play, including social/emotional learning, dyslexia, family and consumer science, and more.
“We are making a big effort to strengthen the skills of all our staff members in a wide variety of areas,” Title said.
Overall, the budget asks for a staff increase equivalent to 5.6 full-time mployees, with one of those positions being certified.
“We’re able to reduce staff at the elementary and middle school because of enrollment,” he said, noting it’s projected to drop to 9,960 students next year versus the current 10,058 in kindergarten through 12th grade.
“It flat-lined for about three years and now it’s been on a steady decline,” he said, “and, of course, that’s the basis for the budget.”
He said Fairfield’s per pupil spending is approximately $16,000 per pupil this year, ranking 81st among 169 municipalities.
“We have maintained and improved this school system while being very efficient with our spending,” he said.
While this year’s budget had a 3.53 percent proposed increase over 2014-15, Title said the district has averaged 2.08 percent increases over the past seven years.
“I’m very impressed with the budget at first look,” said board Vice Chairman Anthony Calabrese. “I’m really excited about the savings that you guys were able to work out.”
“Our budget review process is that we basically walk through the book from beginning to end …,” Chairman Philip Dwyer said. “We’ll go through the line items to the extent that people have questions on the line items.”
“The vote on the budget will be on Jan. 28,” he said.