Groton's proposed school budget comes in at $75 million

Groton - Superintendent Michael Graner on Monday presented a proposed school budget of about $75 million for 2014-15, an increase of about 1.9 percent compared to the current budget.

"Not a single program, not a single supply, not a single book is being eliminated from this budget," Graner told the Board of Education's Committee of the Whole. He added that the budget would maintain class size, increase classroom supplies and materials and fully fund health care costs, which the department had underfunded in the past.

The budget would cut a significant amount by not replacing staff who are retiring or leaving and not filling other positions. In addition, the budget would reduce the number of curriculum specialists working in the central office from five to three, then place the two specialists whose jobs are eliminated in positions as principals or assistant principals at lower salaries. The budget presented Monday did not specify which jobs those would be.

Graner's proposal estimates saving $340,000 by not replacing five teachers who are leaving and another $300,000 from anticipated retirements. In addition, the plan would save nearly $327,000 through attrition and retirements of special education teachers. Graner said he would save an additional $62,000 by not filling three vacant support staff positions.

His budget also calls for restructuring the special education vocational program for 18- to 21-year-old students that provides work experience. The program is nearly $250,000 in the red this fiscal year and Graner would cut another $50,000 from it. His plan is to create a program at Fitch High School where the students could work instead.

He said he believed it would be more efficient and better for the students to stay "in the confines of a supportive environment like Fitch."

The proposed budget would add nearly $1.8 million to the amount the district spends on health insurance to fully fund the account for employees. Graner said in previous years, the district tapped into reserve to "artificially prop up the budget."

Business Manager Carolyn Dickey said some changes were the result of looking at what the department actually spent in areas versus what they budgeted. For instance, the department budgeted about $740,000 for unemployment compensation this fiscal year based on the recommendation of the Department of Labor and an anticipated 60 layoffs. But the district spent less than $103,000, despite layoffs.

Graner said he plans to present the budget again to the school board at its meeting Monday, then hold a second public hearing on Feb. 20. A public hearing was held on Feb. 6, but at that time Graner only had a bare-bones preview of his plan.

Board members expect to hold a work session on the budget Feb. 24 and possibly meet also on Feb. 27. The board must submit a budget to the town by Feb. 28.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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