School board to host budget hearings Saturday, Monday

Voters will get to voice their opinions about the proposed 2019-20 school budget public hearings later this week and early next week.
The Board of Education will host its annual weekend budget hearing Saturday, Feb. 9, at 10 a.m., in the auditorium of Scotts Ridge Middle School. The board will also hold a second public hearing during its normal meeting scheduled Monday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. in the town hall annex. If either hearing is cancelled due to weather, the school board will host a make-up session Saturday, Feb. 23, at 10 a.m. at Scotts Ridge. 
The proposed $98.3-million budget would see an increase of 3.43% over the $95 million voters approved for the 2018-19 school year in May 2018.
Salaries for certified and non-certified staff make up about 60% — or $59 million — of the total budget proposal, according to a presentation by Interim Superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote.
Benefits for employees, at $19.6 million, make up about 20% of the budget. That presents one area of risk, as it is not yet clear how much the school district’s health insurance costs will increase for next year. Paddyfote said she built the budget on the assumption that costs will increase by 7 percent, but earlier estimates put the increase as high as 20 percent.
The rest of the budget is made up of transportation costs ($5.7 million), maintenance ($2.1 million), special education costs ($2.8 million, including the cost of tuition for out-of-district students), energy ($2.4 million), supplies and materials ($1.5 million), and all other expenses ($5 million). 
The budget has drawn some controversy from parents and school staff over proposed cuts to the elementary arts program.
Residents have also raised concern about the potential increase in taxes from the proposed budget, comparing the figure to Wilton, which has proposed a school budget increase of 1.3%.
Capital items
Other issues stemming from this budget season are a variety of school infrastructure repairs, including worn-out bathrooms at the high school, collapsing steps at East Ridge Middle School, and a leaking glass vestibule at Barlow Mountain Elementary School.
Typically, those fixes are paid for through the schools capital improvements request, a separate budget that’s submitted in advance of the superintendent’s proposal.
In December, the school board approved a little less than $1.7 million in capital improvements for 2019-20.
However, the board has signaled since then that it might reopen that request, depending on the findings of a committee tasked with looking into school infrastructure, which continues its work.
“We obviously take the review very seriously,” said Board of Eduction Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis Jan. 28. “The Board of Education is prepared to revise our capital request to the town if the outcome of this plan warrants it … we’d like to avoid a situation where inadequate resources lead to a larger issue for safety, security, or health reasons. We’ve seen that in some other neighboring districts and we want to make sure we don’t make the front page of the paper for that.”