New London superintendent addresses some basic questions about school budget in forum

New London - It costs $91 day to educate a student in the New London public school system.

Gathered in the auditorium of the Winthrop Magnet Elementary School, about a dozen parents, school administrators and teachers participated in a question-and-answer-style forum as Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer gave his version of budget 101.

"We (each taxpayer) pay one and a half thousandths of a penny to educate each child in the city of New London," Fischer said. The forum offered an opportunity for the public to ask questions about the school board's budget in a less informal setting.

Those in attendance asked about the budgetary impact of consolidating Nathan Hale, the merging of the schools finance department into the city's, federal and state funding and the City Council's reasoning for funding the budget and special education costs.

Fischer said understanding the budget is a complicated thing, but it doesn't have to be.

"Parents and staff want to understand, and have a right to understand, what's going on with the budget," Fischer said.

The City Council on Monday approved an $83 million 2012-13 budget, about $4 million short of what Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio had requested in his $87.1 million budget proposal.

Council and Finance Committee members met for seven hours Monday evening to approve a budget that reflects just over a 1 percent increase in spending, but due to a $3 million loss of revenue from the state and the additional $500,000 cost for the city to absorb the school district's finance department, the tax rate is expected to increase about 8 percent.

Last month, the council approved a school budget of $40.6 million, about $2.3 million less than what the school board had requested, 1.2 percent - $809,001 - more than this year's $39.8 million budget. But school officials have said the slight increase is the same as a flat-funded budget because the district is receiving about that amount in state Education Cost Sharing funds.

The school district's proposed budget, including grants and local taxes, is $52.2 million. Fischer said that under the council's approved school budget, local tax contribution is $13.8 million.

At the level the school board requested for its 2012-13 budget, the local tax contribution would have been $17.7 million.

"If we got a 10 percent increase, which is what we needed to stay level, it would cost the average taxpayer 44 cents a day, and we have to ask 'Are our children worth it?'" Fischer said.

Under a flat-funded budget, the school system, which has lost 100 staff members due to budgetary constraints since 2001, is facing layoffs of nearly 60 staff members.

Cheryl Lawrence, a paraprofessional in the school district, asked about retirement incentives for teachers.

"Is there any type of system we can think of to make it worth it to offer teachers a better incentive package when they're close to retirement so you can have them retire when they're ready with a better package and get new, younger teachers in to save money?" Lawrence asked.

Fischer said the district has given it thought, but there isn't money in the budget to pay for retirement incentives.

"As taxpayers of New London, what would you like us to do to help in this budget process to get what we need for our schools," a woman in the audience asked. "... I want to help the schools, what can I do?"

Fischer said that she needed to go to the City Council meetings and "make it clear that you believe that the education of New London children is worth it."

There is a public hearing on the budget scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. at New London High School.

j.hanckel@theday.com

School budget numbers

Fiscal year 2011 revenue sources for the New London Board of Education and their percentage of the total:
State grants: $25.1 million, 49.91 percent
Federal grants: $7.5 million, 15.01 percent
Other grants: $505,363, 1 percent
Local tax dollars: $17.1 million, 34.07 percent

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