Montville Town Council passes school, town budgets with reductions to each

Montville — The town has a budget for next year, and the school district will keep running its own bus fleet for now.

After months of deliberation — and weeks after the town charter’s budget deadline had passed — the Town Council voted for a budget earlier this month that will go into effect July 1 and will raise the town’s mill rate by about $100 on a home with an assessed value of $100,000.

At its June 14 Town Council meeting, council members voted to strike $500,000 from the school budget approved by the mayor and $410,000 from the general government proposal, ending the night with a final school budget of $37,660,619, a general government budget of $20,300,168 and a capital budget of $690,082.

The new mill rate, which goes in effect July 1, is 31.7 mills. That translates to a yearly $3,170 tax bill on a $100,000 dollar home.

The lower school budget will mean layoffs of two teachers at Montville High School, a school counselor shifting to a part-time position, reductions to athletic programming at Montville High School and the elimination of a nursing training program, among other things, Superintendent Brian Levesque said Wednesday. The school board voted on the reductions at its June 20 meeting following the June 14 final Town Council vote on the budgets.

“It was a lot of cuts,” Levesque said.

The decision came after an extended school board discussion this spring over whether to hire a private bus company to take over the district’s transportation duties. The district always has run its own bus garage and transportation system. After a school board member’s hospitalization derailed a scheduled re-do of a vote on the bus contract planned for June 20, that system will stay in place, Levesque said.

The bus contract would have saved the district about $50,000 in transportation spending in the first year, and $2 million over five years, Levesque said. The bus company, Durham, would have purchased the district's fleet of buses and vans for about $680,000, and would have bought 24 new buses over the five-year contract to replace the older vehicles in the fleet.

The school board will enter negotiations with the school bus drivers, represented by the Teamsters Local 493 union chapter, this summer, Levesque said. The current five-year contract expires this month, one of the reasons Levesque pursued a contract with a private company this spring.

But drivers' concerns about losing the health benefits they receive under that contract took over the debate in the school board over the contract, as did board members' complaints that they didn't get information far enough in advance before the first vote on May 16.

The board voted 4-3 at at that meeting not to enter the contract with Durham. That decision stands for now, though Levesque said he plans to recommend a move to a private company again as the best solution for an aging fleet of buses and limited money to pay for replacements.

The $500,000 additional cut from the Town Council — which board Chairman Robert Mitchell said actually brings the 2018 budget in slightly under the current one — forced the board to lay off two Montville High School teachers.

The board also saved money because a Leonard J. Tyl Middle School counselor agreed to work part-time and other teachers announced their retirement.

Mitchell said cuts from the state budget, and uncertainty in a year when the legislature is not likely to pass a state budget before the end of the fiscal year, threaten to erode the quality of Montville's educational offerings.

A $200,000 cut to the supplies budget could mean teachers will need to buy their own classroom supplies, he said, and students will feel the cuts to teaching and counseling staff.

"There hasn't been any fat in the school board budget in a long time," he said. "We can't keep reducing teachers and staff. Am I frustrated about it? Yeah. I never want to see us moving backwards."

m.shanahan@theday.com

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