Stonington school officials make case for 2.96 percent budget increase to Board of Finance

Stonington - School officials presented the proposed 2014-15 budget and its 2.96 percent increase to the Board of Finance Wednesday night, saying that if they had continued the current level of service and not made cuts the increase would have been 6.4 percent.

The $34.7 million budget is $997,374 more than the current budget. In 2013-14, the school budget increased $779,000 from the previous year.

Board of Education Chairman Frank Todisco said the increase was caused by employee raises and increases for health insurance, fuel, utilities, special education, transportation and magnet school tuition. He pointed out that eight teaching positions will be eliminated through attrition as well as five paraprofessionals and one computer technician.

He said this will result in larger class sizes. Todisco pointed out that the school board reduced the $330,000 originally included in the proposed budget for additional administrative salaries to oversee the new state-mandated teacher evaluation to $120,000 because there are uncertainties about the requirements of the unfunded state mandate.

Superintendent of Schools Van Riley told the finance board that the system continues to look for ways to cut costs and bring in new revenues.

For example, he said the system saved $100,000 in health care premiums this year by using substitute teachers instead of filling five vacancies with new full-time employees. He said the school system continues to seek state approval to open a magnet program as a way to bring in tuition revenue from out-of-town students.

Riley then conducted a line-by-line review of what he termed a "conservative budget."

Finance Board Chairman John O'Brien commended Riley on a nice job presenting the budget.

The school board also presented a request for $1.4 million in capital improvements, a third of which is for school security upgrades prompted by the Newtown shootings. The current capital budget is $944,000, including both town and school items. The finance board asked school officials which items were most needed as they look for ways to cut the capital budget. Riley told the finance board that certain security items were most important.

O'Brien said the finance board needs to evaluate the items, possibly spreading the cost over several years or bonding the work.

The finance board is scheduled to hold two meetings to review and possibly cut the proposed budget at 7 p.m. on March 12 and 19 at the police department.


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