Minimal budget discussion at BOE

At the first regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting since the release of the proposed 2014-2015 education budget, a good portion of the discussion circled around items that were not yet conclusively known in that education budget.

As a result, a detailed examination of the budget was largely deferred at the meeting, which took place on Feb. 26 at Strong Middle School.

On Feb. 12, Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Veronesi proposed a budget totaling $35,178,402, or a net increase of 1.74 percent.

That budget contained some additions, such as 4 new AP courses at Coginchaug Regional High School and a K-4 technology teacher, and some reductions, such as other teachers, as well as other certified and non-certified staff. The proposed staffing results in a net loss of 13.2 positions.

The budget process was moved earlier in the calendar this year. According to Board of Education chair Kerrie Flanagan, this was done to create an easier and more thoughtful budget process. Business Manager Ron Melnik noted after the meeting that in a normal year the budget would have only just been released.

While the majority of the budget is set, some lines have projections or placeholders that are expected to change. Some of the budget factors that are still unknown are kindergarten enrollment, high school enrollment and scheduling. Sign up for high school classes continues to the end of February and the district does not know exactly how many current students will opt for other high school options next year.

Kindergarten enrollment has already jumped beyond expectations for the next class, from 89 to 104. Flanagan repeated her statement that the elimination of a kindergarten class for next year would have to be re-visited, but it was not specifically changed at the meeting.

The district also has several outstanding contracts. The nurses, custodial workers, and cafeteria workers are negotiating their contracts, which have smaller impacts on the budget than the recently-settled teachers’ contract. The administrators’ contract is also in negotiation, but only for benefits not salary.

“There are placeholders in there [the budget], that are based on estimates and that’s why we’re deferring a detailed discussion of salaries until March 12,” said Flanagan.

The bus contract with Dattco is also near completion. Melnik said he expects the figures from the bus contract to be available for budget discussions at the BOE’s March 12 meeting.

The BOE will meet on March 5 at 7:30 at Strong Middle School, but at that meeting the BOE will host the Boards of Finance from both Durham and Middlefield.

“I think it’s possible that the budget may change a little bit,” said Flanagan, speaking of future meetings.

After the meeting, both Flanagan and Melnik said that the earlier start to the budget calendar had made for a better process.

While on Feb. 26 there was little to no discussion of where the budget could go, Melnik gave a presentation of how it got to where it is. Melnik explained the significant budget drivers to the board and the audience.

The benefits line continues to increase, this year at 8.16%. According to the presentation the ‘[i]nitial quote from Anthem was a 21% increase.” The teachers, but not all the staff, switched to a cheaper Health Savings Account plan, which still did not reduce the overall cost. The expense of health insurance and worker’s compensation, Melnik explained, is policy-determined and “claims-based.” According to the presentation, worker’s compensation insurance increased by 50 percent.

Purchases services, supplies, capital, and debt services all decreased in the proposed 2014-2015 budget. Overall, expenses are proposed to go up 1.55 percent. A drop in revenue brings the net budget to 1.74 percent.

The BOE will meet every Wednesday in March at 7:30 pm at Strong Middle School.



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