Ridgefield identifies ways to offset reductions in school budget

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — A commitment from an insurance company and a federal grant could help offset reductions in a school budget adopted by the Board of Education this week, officials said.

The Board of Education unanimously adopted a revised operating budget Monday that meets the amount allocated by the town’s Board of Finance.

Last month, the Board of Finance approved a 2.35 percent increase for the schools — a 1.1 percent reduction from what the district proposed.

The revised Board of Education budget totals $102.3 million — $1.1 million less than its initial proposal.

According to Board of Finance Chairman David Ulmer, the schools saved about $650,000 in health insurance expenses and an additional $350,000 in other insurance reductions.

This allowed the Board of Finance to shave the schools’ budget down to a 2.45 percent increase, Ulmer said. The budget was trimmed to a 2.35 percent increase because board members thought they could “find more savings,” Ulmer said.

At the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Chairman Jonathan Steckler questioned what would happen to future budgets that included new programs, projects or initiatives to address educational inequities within the district’s elementary schools.

“On the one hand, I’m confident that the administration can do what they had set out to do this coming year,” he said. “That said, I am concerned for the year after this and the year after that.”

To meet the allocation, school administrators are looking to reduce budget lines related to insurance expenses and workers’ compensation. Business Manager Dawn Norton said that since the final calculations for employee benefits were “much less than anticipated,” they were able to reduce that line by 2.84 percent, or $655,000.

The district is also in deliberations with the town to renegotiate workers’ compensation and liability insurance costs, which could bring a $100,000 reduction to that budget line.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Tuesday that the town has a “commitment” from an insurer that would allow the Board of Education to move forward with its reductions.

“We know that there’s a company willing to hold their price until July 1 once we complete our bid,” he said, “so we feel comfortable (knowing) we have that in our pocket.”

Superintendent Susie Da Silva said if those numbers don’t actualize, the board may be able to cover operating costs with funds from federal grants. The federal monies, provided through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, aim to make learning more accessible to students with disabilities, at-risk populations, language needs and other challenges.

Da Silva announced Monday that she had applied for a roughly $430,000 federal grant, which would prioritize academic achievement and/or remediation, parent support workshops, mental health initiatives and equity of technology in Ridgefield’s schools.

“In the event that we have to make some shifts, the grant was written in a way which would allow some flexibility to do that. Thankfully, we’re in a position that we don’t have to impact programs,” she said. “Outside of that, we would’ve been in a tough spot.”

The community will vote for the budget on April 24 and the referendum is set for May 11. Residents can vote in person or cast an absentee ballot before the voting date.