First Norwich budget public hearing to be held Thursday

Norwich — Two days before the first City Council budget public hearing, the Board of Education affirmed support for its $83 million proposed budget, which is a 9 percent increase from this year's spending plan and includes rising transportation costs with 10 additional buses planned.

School Business Administrator Athena Nagel asked the school board Tuesday for either a firm commitment or possible changes to the $3.4 million new contract with First Student Transportation that includes five additional regular education buses and five new special education buses. Nagel and Superintendent Abby Dolliver said the new buses are not luxury items but are necessary for the transportation of students to 106 locations and an expected increase in special education students.

Board members quickly instructed Nagel to deliver the new signed contract to First Student to ensure that the new buses would be ordered in time for the start of the next school year. Nagel said the contract and bus orders could not wait for a final budget decision by the City Council in mid-June.

City Manager John Salomone proposed a total $77.7 million school budget with a 2 percent, or $1.5 million, increase over this year’s total.

The City Council will hold a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall on Salomone’s combined city, school and capital improvements budget of $126.8 million, including a $46.69 million city government budget and $2.47 million for capital improvements. The overall budget is a 2.4 percent increase over this year’s $123.8 million total. The City Council will hold a second budget public hearing at 7:30 p.m. May 14.

The school board has generated controversy early in the spring budget season by approving a budget with a 9 percent, $6.8 million, increase and issuing a statement that the board could seek legal action if the City Council doesn’t provide the necessary funding. Dolliver told the City Council last week that school officials have no answers on how to operate schools with less funding, meeting fixed-cost tuition increases, transportation, salaries and daily expenses.

Last year, the school board received a 1 percent budget increase, $1.5 million lower than requested. Refusing to cut teaching positions, the board cut $200,000 from transportation fuel. Nagel said the fuel account will finish the year with a deficit, prompting her request Tuesday for assurances on the transportation costs.

c.bessette@theday.com

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