Norwich school board backs proposed budget with 5.48% increase

Norwich - Armed with statistics showing cuts to school budget requests over the past 15 years, the Board of Education Tuesday approved a 2014-15 school budget that would total $74.4 million, a $3.3 million, or 5.48 percent, increase over this year's total.

The budget would add nine new teaching positions to restore long-desired programs eliminated over the years through budget cuts. The additions - four full-day kindergarten teachers, two world language teachers, two library media specialists, and one instrumental music teacher - were added by the board after Superintendent Abby Dolliver initially presented a $73.8 million, a $3.3 million, or 4.7 percent, increase just to keep current programs.

Even in an expected tough city budget year, board members said they felt strongly that they needed to include the programs they feel are necessary to improve the school system and attract new families to Norwich.

"The only way the city's going to move forward is to invest in education," board member John LeVangie said. "That is to say, restore some of the programs that were cut."

Board Chairwoman Yvette Jacaruso said the budget is not full of "frills" but includes only the basics that are needed.

Superintendent Abby Dolliver said the new Norwich St. Patrick's Day parade committee asked her to have the Norwich school band participate.

"I had to remind them we don't have instrumental music," Dolliver said. The Fields Memorial School band from Bozrah marched and performed in the Norwich parade.

Including the increases for the restored programs and expanded full-day kindergarten, certified salaries comprise nearly one-third of the budget increase, with an increase of $1.1 million.

Transportation costs are expected to rise by $819,000 to a total of $4.2 million, and capital projects would increase by $300,000 to a total of $500,000. Other increases are spread throughout the budget.

While tuition totals at Norwich Free Academy would drop by nearly $90,000 for combined regular and special education, overall tuition costs to send students to programs outside the district in the 2014-15 budget would rise by $210,000 to $26.7 million, including special education costs.

The budget document includes a two-page budget history showing school board budget requests, amounts recommended by the city manager and final budget decisions by the City Council. Adding up each year's budget from the 1998-99 fiscal year through the 2011-12 fiscal year, the Board of Education had requested a combined total of $1.3 billion, while the city manager recommended $25.7 million in total cuts, and the City Council approved budgets with a cumulative total of $23.7 million in cuts.

Last spring, the school board requested $71.9 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year. City Manager Alan Bergren recommended no increase, and the City Council approved a 0.2 percent increase to $70.4 million.

Mark Cook, president of the Norwich Education Foundation, addressed the board prior to the board's vote and submitted a letter with 62 signatures in support of the full budget as presented. Cook said he presented the same petition to the City Council and said budget supporters would speak at upcoming City Council budget hearings.

Cook said the 5.48 percent increase this year is really misleading because the board received such a small increase last year. He said it's really a 5.5 percent increase over two years, a reasonable 2.25 percent increase per year.

Cook said the increase doesn't really add new things to the budget but rather restores necessary programs and would reduce high kindergarten class sizes experienced this year.

"Instrumental music is offered in nearly all middle schools in the country," Cook said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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