Finance board likely to whack Stonington school budget

Stonington - The proposed 2014-15 school budget and its nearly $1 million increase is expected to face a substantial cut Wednesday night when the Board of Finance tries to finalize a budget proposal to send to a public hearing.

Also facing a likely cut is the $2.2 million capital improvement budget and its $1.3 million increase, a large section of which is comprised of school items including security upgrades in the wake of the Newton shootings. The finance board is slated to meet at 7 p.m. at the police station.

The finance board began making cuts last week and the overall budget proposal now stands at $60.4 million, a 4.3 percent increase. If approved by the board, an extremely unlikely possibility, the budget would increase the tax rate by 1.35 mills to 21.23 mills, about four times that of the largest increase seen in the past five years. During that period, voters have approved budgets with tax rate increases of 0.00, 0.33, 0.20, 0.26 and 0.35 mills.

School board worried

School board Chairman Frank Todisco said Monday that he is "extremely concerned" about the cut facing the school budget, which shows a $997,374 or 2.9 percent increase, most of which is due to increases in employee raises, health insurance, fuel, electricity and special and magnet school education costs.

He said that any cut will impact classroom instruction and will force the board to look at reducing teachers, paraprofessional, textbooks and the funding of sports.

"There's really nothing else to look at," he said.

The school board has already eliminated eight teaching positions through attrition as well as five paraprofessionals and one computer technician as it reduced the original 6.4 percent increase in the school budget to 2.9 percent.

Todisco said the school board has already scheduled a special meeting for March 27 at 7 p.m. at the high school to determine exactly what items it will have to eliminate from the budget based on the expected finance board cut. He said the board wants residents to know what will be cut in time for the April public hearing.

If the finance board wants to cut one mill so the budget reflects a .35 mill increase, the same as this year, it would have to cut $2.5 million from the budget. To do that, it would have to cut all of the increases in the school, general government and capital improvement budgets.

Part of the problem facing the finance board is that is used almost $1.4 million from the town's undesignated fund balance to offset the tax rate in the current budget and prevent substantial cuts to the town and school budgets. Currently, the finance board does not plan to use money from the $11.7 million fund balance to lower the tax rate.

Todisco said Monday that he understands that is not an option this year. He added that he feels the fund should be used for emergency situations such as replacing the leaky Deans Mill School roof and not to offset the tax rate. Residents will vote to spend $1.2 million from the fund to make those roof repairs at tonight's 7 p.m. town meeting at the high school.

Last week the finance board cut $281,000 from the general government capital improvement budgets.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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