Preston proposed school budget up 3 percent

Preston — The Board of Education on Monday approved a proposed $12 million budget for 2018-19 that calls for a 3.04 percent spending increase, including a full-time social worker, an additional classroom teacher and 1.5 paraeducator positions to address an enrollment increase.

The budget was submitted to the Board of Finance, which could make adjustments before sending the school budget and the proposed $3.6 million town government budget — with a 6.28 percent increase — to residents at a public hearing and town meeting.

Following a different budget process this year that stressed priorities, the board voted unanimously to accept the proposed budget with a spending increase of $355,915 for 2018-19. The budget includes $72,218 in salary and benefits for a social worker to be shared by the two town schools, and $65,320 in salary and benefits for an additional elementary school classroom teacher to address growing class sizes.

Board of Education Chairman Sean Nugent said Tuesday the board pared down other areas of the budget as much as possible to reduce the increase. He said nearly all of the proposed increase is in fixed-cost areas, such as salary contracts and high school tuition. He said Preston schools need the additional staff, especially the school social worker, "in light of what happened in Florida."

School and town Finance Director John Spang said that while the 1.5 paraeducator positions are new to the budget, they were hired in January of this year using savings in special education costs in the current budget.

Overall salaries are expected to increase by $360,668 to a total of $5.5 million, a 7 percent hike that includes contractual raises and the new positions. Health benefits would rise by $65,460, a 6.5 percent increase, to just over $1 million total.

High school tuition also is projected for a steep 9.5 percent increase to $2.24 million. While Norwich Free Academy — the town’s main designated high school — tuition will increase by only 1.5 percent next year, Preston’s enrollment at NFA will jump from 151 to 162 students, an increase of $168,921.

Unlike in many towns, Preston expects a sharp drop in special education costs in the proposed budget after two high-cost special education placements were discontinued this year. Next year, special education costs are expected to drop by $230,993, a 13.8 percent decrease.

Transportation costs also are expected to drop by $14,943, or 5 percent, to $284,801, with declines in bus maintenance costs and the one-time cost of equipment purchases this year, Spang said.

Not included in the spending plan, Superintendent Roy Seitsinger and the board included what Seitsinger called “a few predictions of future budget considerations.”

The list includes six items Preston should start planning for in future school costs: additional classroom teachers to address expected enrollment increases, an English language teacher to work with immigrant students, a program for “exceptional and talented” students, a human resources staff person, partnerships with surrounding districts or the town for shared services and improvements to school safety.

On Monday, the school board voted to move $14,000 from the current school budget salaries account to address security measures. Spang said school officials do not disclose details of school security measures, but said they did not include staffing.

c.bessette@theday.com

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