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    Tuesday, September 27, 2022

    Stonington school board hears superintendent's revised budget

    Stonington - Superintendent of Schools Van Riley presented a proposed 2015-16 school budget to the Board of Education on Thursday that calls for a 6.3 percent increase - 2½ times the increase suggested by the Board of Finance.

    Riley pointed out that 6 percent increases were needed in the 2013-14 and current budget just to maintain the previous programs with no improvements, but the finance board approved increases of 2.5 and 1.5 percent, respectively.

    "These underfunded budgets resulted in reductions in teachers, support staff, instructional materials and in program offerings. We must consider stopping the underfunding of our basic educational programs," he wrote in the overview of his proposal.

    Riley wrote that his budget proposal is designed "to meet the needs of the district within conservative fiscal parameters."

    He said his proposal also is designed to restore a few items cut from recent budgets in an effort to make up for the deficiencies experienced in the past few years.

    "I believe the town and our students deserve more," he said. "This downward trend has to be reversed. We can't keep going like this. We can't do this to our children."

    He also recommended the school board ask the finance board to send the school budget proposal intact to voters and let them decide whether it should be approved.

    "I say, 'Let the community decide,'" Riley told the school board.

    Last year, more than 500 residents packed a finance board public hearing and urged the board to do what Riley is suggesting - but it refused.

    The major increases in Riley's $36.4 million proposal include a $992,000 hike in teacher salaries, some of which is designed to restore 5.8 teaching positions to keep class sizes within suggested ranges and provide for special education needs. Riley also wants to hire a part-time assistant middle school principal so each school has one.

    There also would be a $559,000 hike in utility costs and $140,000 in paraprofessional slates.

    There will also be a $550,000 increase in special education tuition and transportation, which the system is mandated to fund.

    Riley said there has been a total of $1.4 million in unanticipated new special education costs in the current and proposed budgets because of new students moving into town, some of whom require expensive placements. He said he has frozen spending in the current budget in order to look for money to offset the $732,000 in new special education costs.

    Riley's detailed budget document also includes a list of 12 steps the system has recently taken to save money. One piece of good news is that a feared $500,000 increase in health insurance costs will actually be $60,000 in savings because employees have stayed healthy over the past year.

    The school board is now scheduled to meet over the next four Thursdays at 7 p.m. in the high school commons to review Riley's proposal and finalize a budget to send to the finance board.

    j.wojtas@theday.com

    Twitter: @joewojtas

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