Waterford board OKs school budget

Waterford - The Board of Finance on Wednesday approved with no changes the school district's 2014-15 budget of $44.8 million, a half percent increase over the current budget.

The budget includes funding for four additional certified teachers, three elementary paraprofessional positions in mathematics, and an additional school psychologist and additional social worker. The budget eliminates one non-certified teaching position.

Board of Education Chairman Kathleen McCarty said the new positions will help the district adapt to the changing needs of students.

"Things are changing in Waterford. The needs of our students have definitely increased since the economic recession," she told the finance board.

Superintendent Jerome Belair said after the budget hearing that students now face more stress at home relating to factors such as divorce, financial situations and family members having to work far from home.

The cost of adding positions is offset by $687,000 in savings on health insurance costs for the district. The district opted for a different design in health plans, and some employees chose high-deductible plans.

The savings made for a "modest increase," said McCarty. She said the district's 2014-15 budget shows one of the lowest percentage increases among school districts in the state. Still, finance board members said they would have preferred a flat budget.

Finance board member Cheryl Larder said she was "disappointed" that the district found significant savings but still requested a higher budget for 2014-15.

"I realize you think 0.55 is small," she said.

She commented that some town departments that did not find savings in their budgets nonetheless turned in budgets that were flat or lower than the current year's budget.

Belair responded, "If you're going to add up where there are savings, you also have to add up where there are increases."

He pointed out a $330,000 increase in tuition the district must pay for students who attend school out of district.

The board also heard the debt service budget Wednesday. Debt service in 2014-15 is entirely comprised of payments on bonds for school renovations and additions.

The proposed debt service budget shows a 42 percent increase, to $7.2 million. Most of the increase is due to the bonding earlier this month of renovations and additions to Waterford High School.

Board members said they could not make changes to debt service, which Finance Director Rudie Beers said she began budgeting for in 2004.

Wednesday's hearing was the last before the Board of Finance makes its final recommendation for the town budget Monday. The board recommendation will move to the Representative Town Meeting in May.

t.townsend@theday.com

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