State cuts force Montville to shave $1 million off school expenses

Montville — Faced with steep cuts in state aid to schools, the Montville Town Council this week approved shaving $1 million from the Board of Education's expenses for the 2017-2018 school year.

The midyear cut forces Montville Public Schools administrators to hold off on purchasing a range of items the district typically buys according to a spending cycle that begins months in advance of the new fiscal year, such as insurance and contracts with utilities. But the cuts won't affect classroom education, student services or staffing this year, Superintendent Brian Levesque said Monday night.

The 2017-2018 Board of Education operating budget of $37.6 million was slashed to $36.6 million in a 6 to 1 council vote Monday. Levesque said the suggested cuts were "all items we have to have (in 2018-2019)," but waiting on the purchases until the next fiscal year begins on July 1 "will not change any of our services this year."

Officials said the adjustment does not impact the mill rate because the revenue cut came from Educational Cost Sharing grant in the October state budget and the cuts to expenses are a wash.

Levesque said in an interview that the district was fortunate it could make the budget adjustment in a year when many districts across the state are facing cuts to payroll and services.

"This is just a one-time-pass for us," he said. "If in next year's budget cycle I have to make reductions, those won't be reductions."

Administrators have received assurances from some state officials that next year's budget does not look as bleak for aid to schools, said Levesque. But he told councilors if the state budget again forces the district into a $1 million hole next year, "we're making wholesale changes."

Next year's liability insurance at more than $250,000, textbooks for $170,000, software licenses and utility contracts are a few of the items the district is holding off on buying until the next fiscal year. The town's auditors fully backed the budgetary move given the sudden need to find immediate ways to lower expenses, Levesque noted.

Councilor Joe Rogulski voted in favor of the shift but said, "I don't like it."

"You're putting your neck out a little bit," Rogulski told Levesque, though along with several councilors Rogulski said "I appreciate your creativity making things work."

Deputy Council Chairman Wills Pike thanked Levesque "and his staff for getting on top of this issue" and for several productive meetings over the last few weeks hammering out possible fixes.

Kathleen Pollard was the lone vote against the resolution reducing the school board budget, saying after the meeting she didn't want to be part of any reductions to schools.

Levesque noted he would present a final list of expense cuts totaling $1 million to the BOE at its next meeting, which is not yet scheduled.

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