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New London school board backs 1.9 percent budget increase in 5-1 vote

New London - The Board of Education will seek a budget of $41,177,450 for fiscal year 2015 and on Thursday approved the superintendent's recommended budget increase of 1.9 percent, or $772,780, over the current budget.

"What we're offering here is not everything we would like; we're trying to be realistic," given what the mayor and the city finance director have indicated the city could afford, said Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer at the school board meeting.

The overall budget increase of 1.9 percent was determined based on increases expected in salaries, health insurance, transportation and out-of-district placements.

The board voted 5-1 in support of the increase. Board member Mirna Martinez voted against the proposal. Martinez said she would support a greater increase that would allow the board to assume responsibility for maintenance of school buildings. She also wanted assurance that the board would have access to the nearly $400,000 it had set aside in a nonlapsing fund for unexpected expenses related to the city's schools.

According to state-appointed special master Steven J. Adamowski, the city's annual audit confirmed that the city has already used those funds - unspent money from the school district's 2013 budget - to balance its deficit.

The 2015 budget was calculated using a new budgeting method known as student-based budgeting, which school officials say leads to a more equitable allocation of funds.

Under the student-based budgeting method, each school is allocated a certain amount of money based on its total projected enrollment. The projected enrollment is multiplied by a per-student dollar amount to determine each school's budget. The per-student budget for students in special education and English language learner programs is weighted at different levels based on the students' needs.

For so-called regular education students, the per-student dollar amount was set at $4,579.57 at the elementary level, $5,727.29 at the middle school level and $6,871.87 at the high school level in the budget reviewed by the board Thursday.

Each school - except Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and the Science and Technology Magnet High School - would see an increase in funding under the proposed budget.

The budget for Bennie Dover Jackson would decrease by $569,559 due to a projected decrease of about 75 students.

The STEM high school's budget would decrease by $560,756 because there are very few special education students and no English language learner students enrolled there.

The district expects to cover the shortfalls, created at those schools by the change in the way the budget was calculated, with additional grant funding the district will soon apply for.

By March 15, the school system's budget must be sent to Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who will include it in the overall city budget he presents to the City Council on April 1. Finizio has said that he would support any reasonable budget request the Board of Education makes.

Earlier this month, members of the school board presented budget framework - and the anticipated 1.9 percent increase - to the City Council.

Council President Wade Hyslop called the proposed increase "slight."


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