Schools keep 3.48% budget increase

The Board of Education has decided to keep its 2017-18 operating budget request at $93.5 million despite a non-binding recommendation from the Board of Selectmen last week to reduce the proposed increase from 3.48% to 2.5%.

The selectmen asked the school board to trim $883,959 from its budget at its March 8 meeting, but educators denied that request Monday night.

“We have to remember this is non-binding,” said school board Chair Fran Walton. “I would like to go forward with the budget we have approved.”

“The only way this gets reduced is if we reduce headcount and, if we reduce headcount, it affects the program in some way or another.”

Although the budget represents a 3.48% increase from last year, it is exactly 2.5% — staying within the municipal spending cap — after carving out special education funds, which don’t have to be considered for the state cap.

The vote from the Board of Selectmen last week was not unanimous, with Selectman Steve Zemo and First Selectman Rudy Marconi voting against the $883,959 reduction.

“They said said education is a driver in this town, and that education supports this town,” Walton told the board.

Superintendent Karen Baldwin said that one of the main budget drivers is health benefits.

She told the board Monday that the district switched contractors earlier this year to obtain savings, and that line item can’t be reduced any further.

She said it was important to remember that any more cuts would affect additional staff members. The 2017-18 budget has already reduced seven positions in the school district.

“It’s important to make clear they’re not just cutting a budget,” Baldwin said Monday.

“These are all things that lead to services, they are actual human beings that are educating our children.”

The budget will be reviewed by the Board of Finance at a public hearing Monday, March 27.