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New London - The City Council's Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved, for the fifth year in a row, a flat-funded school budget of $40.6 million - $2.3 million less than what the school board had requested.
The committee also voted to combine the school board's finance office, which costs the school board about $500,000 to run, with the city's. City Council President Michael Passero said the move made sense.
"By doing that, we can free up money for the school system that we otherwise would not have the ability to come up with," Passero said. "The city will assume that cost on its side of the budget."
Following more than an hour of discussion, the committee approved a school budget of $40,626,406, which includes a 1.2 percent, or $809,001, increase from this year's $39.8 million budget. The school board had requested a budget with a 6 percent increase.
The $809,001 increase amounts to what the district is counting on receiving in state Education Cost Sharing funds next year. But the legislature is debating Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's controversial education reform bill, and Malloy told officials from 23 school districts last week not to count on the money.
"If the governor vetoes this bill (S.B. 24) ... it's a real dice roll on whether we'll even get the money," Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said after the meeting. "There's no guarantee that we're going to get that full amount. A flat-funded budget would be devastating."
A zero increase to the school budget would result in more than 50 layoffs throughout the district, Fischer said.
As part of the budget process, the school board asked each building administrator to explain what the impact of a flat-funded budget would mean for their school.
Each building will sacrifice teaching and special education staff, educational programs, supplies, field trips and more, the administrators said. The central office would lose its literacy supervisor, one special education evaluator, a secretary to the business office and more.
Chairman William Morse asked the Finance Committee to reconsider its decision, saying positions such as that of the literacy supervisor are essential.
"We have so many children coming from homes where nobody reads, there's no books, and we're finally making gains," Morse said. "Every board member would tell you literacy is the key cornerstone of what we're trying to improve within the school district.
"We've seen progress with students. Students from K to 12 are making one year or more of progress. But that has come at a certain cost. We are mandated by the state to provide certain services to give the child a richer educational experience, and this is not negotiable."
The Finance Committee is scheduled to meet again next Wednesday before the City Council votes to adopt the school budget on April 30.