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School Board Approves Its 2018-19 Budget

Published: February 2, 2018

This article has been updated to reflect votes for motions.

Near the end of a roughly four-hour meeting, the Board of Education on Thursday night brought its budget workshops to a close by approving a $76,054,231 spending plan for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

The budget approved on February 1 represents a $1,713,557 or 2.31 percent increase from the current budget, according to calculations done at the meeting by district Business Director Ron Bienkowski. The budget was approved after numerous motions.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue initially presented her proposed budget to the board at its first budget workshop meeting on January 9. As presented, the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Budget Plan is $75,990,687, or a 2.22 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The school board’s adopted budget will now go before the Board of Finance and Legislative Council for review before going to referendum. Since the start of its budget workshop meetings, the school board reviewed different aspects of the proposed spending plan.

Board of Education Chair Michelle Embree Ku said the February 1 budget workshop was “the culmination of several months of in-depth work, and what the public sees — these three-hour-long meetings once or twice a week — is the results of literally hundreds of hours of preparation by a multitude of people.”

Ms Ku said the budget was created by an intensive effort by district staff and board members.

Dr Rodrigue said she feels the budget represents a “sound and reasonable approach.” She commended her district team and board members for their efforts on the budget. She said students need to be prepared for the future through strengthening, enhancing, and maintaining programs, while being fiscally responsible and “moving the district forward.” The budget, she added, was developed in the midst of a variety of “complexities and uncertainties that plague all districts around state funding.”

Near the start of the evening’s budget deliberations, Mr Bienkowski presented adjustments to the budget since it was first developed for the board to approve along with the board’s approved motions.

Approved motions on the budget included holding the district’s pay-to-participate planned five-year reduction to fees charged, with the intent of discussing equity for funding sports programs. The additional $23,000 that will be collected from maintaining the current level of fees to participate in sports programs next year will be used in the Athletic Department’s budget. Board members Andrew Clure, Dan Delia, Debbie Leidlein, and board Secretary Dan Cruson, Jr, voted to approve the motion, while Ms Ku, board Vice Chair Rebekah Harriman-Stites, and board member John Vouros voted against it. The discussion continued talks from the budget workshop on January 30 related to funding for the Newtown ice hockey program and other programs that have relatively high costs for participants and parents.

The board also approved a reduction to the maintenance supplies account for $10,000. Mr Delia, Mr Cruson, Ms Harriman-Stites, Ms Ku, and Mr Clure voted in favor of the motion; Mr Vouros and Ms Leidlein were against the motion.

The board approved increasing a proposed salary for a district network support specialist, which would bring the total salary to $90,000. The position was originally planned as a cost-sharing position between the school board and town, but, according to earlier budget workshop meeting discussions, the town is no longer supporting the planned shared-position, which would have been a $120,000 salary to work for both the town and district. Ms Ku, Ms Harriman-Stites, Ms Leidlein, Mr Cruson, and Mr Vouros approved the final motion to increase the salary, while Mr Clure and Mr Delia voted against it.

The school board also approved changing the assistant principal position at Sandy Hook Elementary School to be a lead teacher position to reflect staffing at the other three elementary schools.Mr Cruson voted against the motion, and Mr Vouros left early and was not present for the vote.

In response to learning from Newtown High School Band & Guard Parents Corps President Michele Buzzi during public participation that the NHS Marching Band is responsible for covering the cost of maintenance and security for its two home events — which serve as fundraisers for the program — the school board voted to add $3,600 to the budget to cover those costs. Ms Buzzi also shared other costs the band is responsible for covering, and the board discussed looking into fees and costs for activities for equitability, similar to its sports program discussion. The motion passed unanimously.

The board approved a $100,000 increase to the special education budget for unforeseen expenses. Ms Harriman-Stites made the motion, saying the intent behind the motion was to use the money if it is not needed in the 2018-19 budget to begin a possible contingency fund specifically for special education funds for future budget years. Ms Ku, Ms Harriman-Stites, Mr Cruson, and Ms Leidlein voted for the motion, and Mr Delia and Mr Clure voted against it.

According to Mr Bienkowski, the Board of Education’s approved budget represented a $63,544 increase over the superintendent’s proposed spending plan.

Further details from the meeting will be available with this story in the February 9, 2018, print edition of The Newtown Bee.

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