Proposed North Stonington school budget holds smaller increase than last year's

North Stonington - Heading into this budget season, Superintendent Peter Nero is planning a more modest increase than voters approved for the current fiscal year.

Nero is seeking a 2.19 percent increase - or $277,484 - to bring next year's school budget up to about $12.9 million. This year's increase of just under 5 percent brought the budget up to $12.7 million.

The largest single expenditure in the budget represents a change in the way the town and schools split the cost of workers' compensation, shifting the burden over to the school district, which has more employees than town government. The schools will now pay $43,300 for their share.

Another large expense will go to technology. The district will cover a $39,000 portion of a grant from the state to purchase new computers.

Nero said the district is also preparing for a visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which sets accreditation standards for the region. About $30,000 is budgeted to cover teacher preparation and accommodations for NEASC representatives for one week in September, including hotel rooms.

Salaries and benefits will increase by about $28,000 - a low amount, Nero said, because of a significant savings for health insurance when the school system switched to a high-deductible plan.

Several unknowns remain that Nero took into account - a request for bids for new food service, funds for athletic trainers who would help to provide medical care during games, and final insurance rates. Contract negotiations with the district's paraprofessionals and custodians are also not yet complete.

But Nero said he doesn't expect any major changes in his projected numbers.

"Right now, we're confident that if there's any fluctuation, it's going to be a few dollars here or there," he said.

Officials would have discussed the budget at a meeting last week but that was canceled due to bad weather. The meeting has not been rescheduled, and Nero said he may wait until March to present it to the boards of education, selectmen and finance.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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