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OLD SAYBROOK - Fewer projected students in school seats led the school board to adopt a budget this month that reflects three fewer teachers next year.
The proposed budget, if approved by the Board of Finance and the town, would increase spending by $699,006, or 2.84 percent over the current year.
"We're very pleased to be able to present a budget that supports the district's strategic plan and program initiatives while being responsible and sensitive to the taxpayers and the community," said Superintendent of Schools Jan Perruccio.
Board of Education (BOE) Chairman Mario Gaboury said of the proposed schools budget, "The superintendent and administrators did a great job of scrutinizing each and every budget item, and the result was a significant reduction in the anticipated budget request while still maintaining high-quality education and keeping strategic planning on track. The modest percentage increase is only a fraction of what it could have been if this had not been accomplished."What are the initiatives the budget does support? The two main ones cited by Perruccio were work on improving delivery of 21st-century skills to students and on Student Success Plans.
The Plans are mandated by the state to be developed for each student in 6th grade. Each plan initially sets goals for academics, for physical/social/emotional areas and skills, and for careers. Then during their academic years, the elements of the students' plans are adjusted to reflect their individual interests, talents, and needs.
The budget proposal that the superintendent of schools presented to the BOE was accepted without adjustment and will now move on to the town's Board of Finance for review.
The proposal includes a reduction of $250,000 in the district's normal capital and other maintenance spending plans. This decision is tied to two town actions. First is voter approval of new funds to replace the middle school roof, the Goodwin Elementary School windows, the high school tennis courts and high school track, and to install a new artificial turf field. Replacing old infrastructure with new means fewer dollars will be needed next year for maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. Approval of the new artificial turf field by residents also allowed the fields' maintenance budget to be reduced slightly.
Not included in the proposed budget was $68,000 in additional technology that had been requested by school building leaders. The small increase that remains in the budget's technology line will be allocated to support improvements to technology infrastructure needed to fully implement the new computer-adaptive standardized testing regimen, the Smarter Balanced Assessments that will begin in 2014.
District-wide safety and security upgrades were completed in the 2013-'14 budget year and were offset by grant funds totaling $137,000, so no new spending is needed in this category.
Wages and benefits for the proposed certified and non-certified staff represent 79.54 percent of the total district increase.
The state of Connecticut continues to underfund the formula that reimburses school districts for providing tuition, transportation, and support services for special education students with the greatest needs. The state Department of Education projects that it will have sufficient funding to reimburse towns for only 75 percent of their eligible special education students' expenses. The budget reflects this perennial state special education funding shortfall.
The budget also includes an annual payment of principal and interest for the school maintenance bond issued in 2001. That payment amount is $161,913 in the next fiscal year.
The approved BOE budget now moves on to the Board of Finance, which will assess whether to pass it along to the voters as is or to change it.