NEWINGTON - The Town Council is considering the Board of Educationâ€™s $73.6 million budget request for 2018-19, which represents a 4.57 percent increase over current spending.
During a presentation councilors called â€ślucidâ€ť and â€śenjoyable,â€ť Board Chairman Josh Shulman simplified reasons for the increase, most of which are contractual obligations to staff and state-mandated initiatives.
Salary and benefits make up nearly half of the increase. Another leading factor is $1.2 million million in special education costs from a special reserve fund used last fall to prevent layoffs. Board members consider the replenishment of this money necessary to sustain those staff this year, since the funds used are non-recurring.
They used prior yearsâ€™ budget struggles as context for this yearâ€™s growing needs. For example, they pointed out that 21.5 positions have been eliminated in the last five years across the district.
â€śIf you thought we had room to remove positions, that was the room.â€ť Shulman said. â€śWhen youâ€™re cut year after year, whatâ€™s left to cut?â€ť
He also noted that the board had spent 17Â˝ hours streamlining its budget over the last six meetings.
â€śWe have done our due diligence and cut out everything we believe to be non-essential. I hope that you see what weâ€™ve asked for is truly what we need.â€ť
Hiring teachers to staff the renovated STEM Academy wing at Newington High School is at the top of their priority list, for $183,000. The initiative is now going on its second year without being completed due to funding constraints.
â€śThe decision not to fund these teachers is one we severely hope we donâ€™t have to make again this year,â€ť Shulman said. â€śThis was a commitment we told families we were going to follow through with and we havenâ€™t been able to.â€ť
Todayâ€™s kids are grappling with unprecedented personal issues, board members said, necessitating support staff at the middle schools, at a cost of $183,000. Class sizes at Martin Kellogg and John Wallace are larger than those at the elementary schools and NHS, yet there are no social workers on staff.
â€śThe fear is that middle school is when some students fall through the cracks,â€ť Shulman said. â€śThis is really a way to prevent that.â€ť
Those who do get into trouble later on can face expulsion, barring them from attending school with their peers. In lieu of class, the state now requires districts to administer daily tutoring to this group. The board has budgeted this at $100,000 but is working on finding alternate means to meet the mandate, members told the council.
Another $100,000 is earmarked for a preschool classroom to accommodate the growing number of special needs students in town.
Councilors have less than a month to finalize their budget, approving a specific amount of funds for the BOE.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.