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A schools budget proposal of $52,661,311 was approved by the Board of Education (BOE) last week, representing a year-to-year increase of 2.65 percent. The slight decrease, down about $96,000 from last week's $52.7 million superintendent's proposal (an annual increase of 2.73 percent), came due to an unexpected retirement and additional monies, approximately $51,000, removed from textbook requests.
BOE Chairman Mike Krause opened the meeting by making note of the unexpected retirement and asking Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez to take another look at proposed costs for the Supply Account and Textbook Account to see if further reductions could be made. Saying that he felt Hernandez has done a "super job" with the proposed budget, Krause also said he would like to see the final annual increase "get as close to 2.5 percent as we can?I feel a little more comfortable with that number."
By using money in the current budget for some textbook needs presented in the 2014-'15 proposed budget, Hernandez told Krause he felt "confident the board can reduce the budget by $51,000."
The board briefly discussed taking the total savings of the retirement and textbook purchases and putting it toward other district needs, rather than cuts. Ultimately, however, the decision remained to cleave the funds from the proposal for a lower bottom line.
The BOE also approved a $647,749 capital budget publicly presented by Hernandez as a working document for the first time at the Feb. 10 meeting. Included under Technology is $150,000 for "21st-century audio visual systems." The bulk of that cost, $89,000, will bring in nearly 300 Chromebooks to Walsh Intermediate School (WIS) and pay for increased/new access connectivity points in the building. With a Chrome platform established at WIS, the school's iPads will be passed on to the town's elementary schools. While some work needs to be done to resolve keyboard issues with the iPads, Hernandez said he is confident work being done to address the situation will bring about a fix in the near future. At the high school, the technology platform will continue to be based on students bringing their own combination of devices, said Hernandez.
Among the larger facilities expenses in the capital budget is $175,000 for a new roof at Branford Hills School. The building is no longer an elementary school, but is used by for professional development, Friends of the Library, and school-aged child care. It was favored by last year's BOE for renovation to be used as the new Sliney School, but the idea was put on hold by the town, which is now in the process of deliberating on the development of a Building Commission to oversee such requests.
"If we were to abandon that building and give it back to the town, if the plan was to implode it and do nothing with it, then I can see" the town not supporting the roof fix in past years, Hernandez said. "If the plan was to build something off of it, potentially, for whatever purpose the town decided, or the board decided, it's probably not a bad investment at some point. I think it's premature, but in my humble opinion, it will start to expedite the conversation, relative to is Branford Hills still in the equation, and I think that's an important piece."
The approved BOE proposed 2014-'15 school budget was due to be turned over to the town on Feb. 14. It will be reviewed next by the Board of Finance, then (with any revisions) sent to the Education Committee of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), which could make further changes before sending it on to the full RTM for final adjustments/approval.