New London superintendent pitches $69.7 million budget

New London — Interim school Superintendent Stephen Tracy presented a $69.7 million proposed budget to the Board of Education on Thursday, a spending plan that despite a 4.3 percent increase was something he called a “reduced-services budget.”

The proposal is an increase of $2.89 million over the 2017-18 budget that, if unchanged, would require a total of $45.4 million from the city — a 7 percent increase from what the city provided in the current budget.

A portion of the city’s funding comes in the form of state Education Cost Sharing Grant funds, which this year are estimated to total $23.2 million. That leaves the request to taxpayers at $22.1 million — a 12.8 percent, or $2.5 million, increase from the $19.6 million current budget.

The balance of the board’s anticipated budget, $24.3 million, comes from a mix of other state and federal grants.

Tracy said he instituted a spending cap at the beginning of the budget planning process because of increasing costs associated with things like salary and health insurance, tuition costs for students traveling outside the district and the continuing rise in the school student population.

Projections show the number of out-of-district students decreasing while the population of New London students rises by 10.4 percent, from 2,940 to 3,255. The total number of students is projected to be 3,907.

Tracy said there are some reductions in personnel and other expenditures that were accomplished with the recommendations of the school leaders. The changes are detailed in a 63-page document handed out on Thursday.

“There was a lot of pressure here to hold down spending and that means a lot of important things are not included in this budget,” Tracy said.

C.B. Jennings Dual Language International Elementary Magnet school and the New London Leadership Academy appear to take the largest funding cuts. The International Baccalaureate dual language program, which is a new $1.1 million line item, and the Early Childhood Center at Harbor School represent the largest hikes in spending.

Details of the budget changes are expected to be debated by the school board over the next few weeks. A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Science & Technology Magnet High School. The school board is expected to vote on a budget by March 12.

Jefferey Hart, head of the school board’s Finance Committee, said the district still is reeling from cuts in the current budget and is not in a position to sustain any more reductions.

“Costs have grown and revenue hasn’t,” Hart said. “We have to prioritize the schools because it’s a good long-term investment for any community. If the city isn’t a reliable partner to the schools, we don’t have anybody else.”

Board member Jason Catala said his initial reaction to the budget was dismay at the severe drop in the number of paraprofessionals and the lack of reductions to the central office, a place he said he would be proposing cuts.

“That’s a problem. Everybody didn’t take a fair hit,” Catala said. “We’re nickel and diming the people who do the real work, make the lowest amount of money, instead of the people at the top tier. It’s not appropriate. I don’t think it’s a responsible budget.”

g.smith@theday.com 

Editor's note: This version of the story reflects an updated date for the public hearing on the budget.

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