Norwich school budget plan far from finished

Norwich February is usually the month when city school officials put the finishing touches on their budget proposal for the coming year, with the Norwich Free Academy tuition bill in hand, the state revenue picture coming into focus and any directives from the city being passed along.

Not so this year.

While Superintendent Abby Dolliver said school officials have received news about a $328,000 drop in NFA tuition and a potential increase of $1 million or more in state aid, the biggest expenses in the budget remain unsettled as the board prepares to meet on Tuesday.

That night, the board is scheduled to discuss proposed contracts with the unions representing teachers and administrators. Those unions are expected to vote Wednesday on whether to ratify the contracts.

Four additional labor contracts also are in negotiations for next year.

Because the union contracts also involve insurance benefits, Dolliver said insurance costs for next year's budget are unknown at this time as well.

The revenue figures announced last week in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget likely won't be approved by the legislature until May, which is normal, Dolliver said. But she needs to learn what conditions Malloy plans to place on the proposed $1 million in additional funding for Norwich as one of the 30 "underperforming" school districts. She expects the money to be restricted for use on programs that deal directly with improving student achievement - a main focus already in the district's improvement plan.

The state funding increase would be offset somewhat by Malloy's other proposal that public school districts contribute $1,000 per student attending charter schools. Currently, 271 Norwich students attend the Integrated Day Charter School, costing the city $271,000 in Malloy's plan.

Normally, the Board of Education hears a budget presentation in February, holds a public hearing in March and then votes on a preliminary budget to submit to the city manager.

Dolliver and school Business Administrator Athena Nagel said Friday they won't have a budget by Tuesday and might not have a completed budget by the March 13 hearing.

School officials hope to discuss the budget with the City Council on Feb. 21 and will present the best estimates at the March budget hearing, Nagel said. The current budget is $68.1 million.

"My goal this year is not to lose anything," Dolliver said. "That's what I'm hoping for."


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