Ridgefield's school budget request likely to near $100 million

School spending plans in the $100 million neighborhood — the school budget is $98 million this year — are expected to kick off the town’s 2020 budget calendar. Interim Superintendent of School Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote is scheduled to unveil her 2020-21 budget request on Monday, Jan. 13.

Dr. Paddyfote’s budget presentation is scheduled for a meeting that starts at 7 p.m. in the Board of Education meeting room at the Town Hall Annex building off Prospect Street by Yanity Gym.

“I don’t know what number she’s going to come in with,” said Board of Education Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis. “I know it’s been a long process. It started over the summer, and they’re still working on it. They’ll be working on right up until, to try to get us to a budget that’s fiscally responsible but addresses our educational needs.

“She was at the tri-board meeting, so she heard what the Board of Finance spoke about in terms of the economic reality in Ridgefield,” Stamatis said.

The tri-board meeting of the finance board, school board and selectmen in November did not result in town and school officials agreeing to informal targets for next year’s spending and tax levels, as it has in recent years.

But finance board Chairman Dave Ulmer did recall past practice.

“We have been able to keep taxes around the inflation rate,” Ulmer said. “The inflation rate averages 2%.”

Current budget

Ridgefield’s current 2019-20 fiscal year is budgeted for about $148 million in spending — $98 million for the school system, $38 million for town departments, $11 million in debt service, and close to $2 million for road repairs and repaving.

For the 2020-21 budget, First Selectman Rudy Marconi has said he is looking to increase spending on road repaving, which was at $1,840,000 for the last two years.

“We have a couple of areas we know we’re going to be asking the people for more money,” Marconi told The Press in late December. “One at the top of the list is our roads. And we’re looking at in the area of 17 miles of roads — about twice the amount we’ve paved in the past.”

Stamatis said she expects part of the Dr. Paddyfote’s 2020-21 budget request will involve money to address various building repair needs.

“She knows what the building needs are, I would expect there would be money in there to address some of the aging infrastructure in our facilities… And likewise to continue to invest in our staff via professional development and curriculum support.

Enrollment is projected to continue its decline. This year’s 2019-20 actual K-12 enrollment is 4,627 students, and the projected enrollment for 2020-21 is 4,559 kids.

At the middle school the system has been in phasing out one of the teaching teams, meaning four teaching positions — one each in math, social studies, English and science — were reduced three years in a row, first at the sixth grade three years ago, then the seventh grade last year, and in eighth grade this year as the smaller class moved up.

“We’ve had a reduction of four positions each year for the last three years,” Stamatis said. “This year, we will not have that.

“It’s a tough budget year, as it is every year, especially when our budget is made up 80% of people,” Stamatis said.

After Dr. Paddyfote’s budget request presentation on Jan 13, the school board will meet for a series of presentations and discussions on different aspects of the budget, with all meetings starting at 7 p.m.:

Wednesday, Jan. 15, the elementary and middle school budgets;

Tuesday, Jan. 21, high school and athletics budgets;

Monday, Jan. 27, curriculum, facilities and general services budgets;

Wednesday, Jan. 29. special education, pupil services, technology.

Then the school board has two public hearings sessions scheduled.

The first public hearing is Saturday morning, Feb. 1, at 10 — with the location listed as “to be determined” but the Scotts Ridge Middle School as the perfered venue (but the sound system was being worked on).

The second public hearing is over a week later, Monday night, Feb. 10, at 7 in the Board of Education meeting room at the Town Hall Annex.

Selectmen’s budget

The Board of Selectmen is due to start its 2020-21 operating budget review in the first week of February with a series of requests from the first selectman and various town departments scheduled for meetings Feb. 3, 4, 5 and 6 in town hall, starting at 7 except for the Wednesday, Feb. 5, meeting, which will be a regular meeting followed by budget work and is scheduled to start at 7:30, as usual.