Heating costs, water main breaks add to school budget woes

Superintendent Dr. Karen Baldwin told Board of Education members Monday night that Ridgefield schools had been running their heating systems at “full throttle,” thanks to the cold snap that brought temperatures tumbling down to the single digits over the last week.

The heating costs were significant, Baldwin noted, because the district likely won’t be seeing any savings from the school plant operations fund in the coming weeks.

School buildings typically dial back their heating systems at night, Baldwin said, and then crank the thermostats back up around 5 a.m., in time for when students arrive. The cold snap has prevented that heating offset, creating problems on multiple fronts for the schools.

Barlow Mountain Elementary School and Ridgefield High School were both affected by water main breaks in the past weeks, Baldwin told the board.

The break at Barlow Mountain caused water damage to one classroom, forcing the class to relocate, she added. The water main break that affected the high school happened on New Year’s Day.

The district was on the hook for the costs of capping the broken water main, according to the superintendent.

Baldwin said her office is still tracking a $1.2-million budget deficit for the public school system by year’s end. With a budget freeze in place since September, her office had tried to hold back on the $241,098 earmarked for school energy expenses.

“It has become clear with water main breaks, pipes freezing, and other weather-related expenditures that we cannot withhold those expenditures,” Baldwin said in a report to the board.

Not counting the energy plant funds, Baldwin said the district hopes to recapture about $716,000 to offset the $1.2-million deficit.