As published in the Record Journal Tuesday April 3, 2012
By Russell Blair
WALLINGFORD — The Board of Education received $614,132 less than what it asked for in Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s proposed 2012-13 budget that was unveiled Monday, but school officials were pleased that the bulk of their requested increase remained intact.
“It’s very good news for us,” School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said. “While we cannot fund everything, that’s a significant portion of what we had requested. We should be pleased with the percentage that we got.”
After a number of budget workshops, the school board sent Dickinson a proposed budget of $90,188,048, an increase of 3.91 percent, or an additional $3.4 million. Dickinson countered with $89,573,916, a 3.2 percent increase and $2.8 million in additional funds.“Their requested increase was lower than typically requested,” Dickinson said Monday afternoon, adding that the school board usually seeks a 5 percent to 6 percent increase. “We try to look at what the reality is.”
Menzo said staff members were planning for the worst, and were preparing figures on what would need to be cut if the increase came back at 1 percent or 2 percent.
“We were looking at catastrophic loss,” he said.
During Monday night’s meeting of the Operations Committee Menzo shared with board members areas that his staff had identified for reductions to reach Dickinson’s figure. Among the cuts Menzo proposed were reducing one teacher at each high school and cutting a K-12 world language coordinator. A foreign language teacher and an English Language Learners instructor are also proposed to be cut due to declining enrollment in those classes.
To help make up the gap,Menzo also has proposed using $84,000 from the district’s unencumbered fund balance, money left over from the current budget. The district is running a surplus of about $480,000 for the fiscal year that ends on June 30, but school officials have been cautious about using that money to fund recurring expenses. Menzo said Monday he’d like to use about $300,000 from that account to replace the track at Lyman Hall.
Generally, board members were optimistic that the budget could be reduced without a significant impact on student learning.
“It’s an indication that we can get there,” said Republican school board member Chet Miller.
“It’s going to be a lot easier than last year,” said Democrat Jay Cei.
Republican Christine Mansfield said the budget represents both “fiscal conservatism and doing what’s best for the kids.” She said Menzo’s proposed cuts weren’t about frivolous spending.
“This is all muscle, but we’re protecting what we committed to,” she said.
Some board members had reservations about the reduction in staff at the high school, but Menzo stressed that none of the proposals offered Monday night was set in stone. He said he only wanted to begin the discussion about bringing education costs down.
“I’m not saying this is what we’re going to do,” he said.
Though board members were upbeat about the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the financial forecast for the following years isn’t as bright. There were no wage increases for teachers or administrators in the first year of three-year contracts negotiated last fall, but raises of more than $2.8 million are due in the next two budgets.
“That’s going to come back next year,” Bowes said.
Major items in the school board’s requested increase included $1.2 million to replenish a one-time federal grant received last year, $1.5 million to cover rising costs for insurance and severance pay, and $655,700 to move the district toward the Common Core State Standards, a nationwide initiative that revises curriculum to focus on math and language arts. The school board will continue its conversation about reductions at its Instructional Committee meeting next Monday. Menzo and Board of Education Chairwoman Roxane McKay will discuss the budget and the ramifications of any cuts before the Town Council on April 12.