Norwich school board will look for $4 million in savings through contract renegotiations

Norwich — The Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the $78.46 million budget total handed it by the City Council, even though that total is $4 million short of what the board says it needs to function in the coming school year.

Along with the vote, the board directed Superintendent Abby Dolliver “to seek to renegotiate the boards’ contractual obligations in an effort to effectuate budgetary savings and report back to the board at its Nov. 13, 2018, regular board meeting on her steps, and her administrative team, (the results) and the budgetary savings that are anticipated as a result of these efforts.” Board member Robert Aldi read the resolution.

Until that November meeting, the board also directed Dolliver to “make such expenditures as are educationally necessary to operate the school district and to maintain the school district’s grant funding to the extent possible.”

The vote came with no public discussion after an hourlong meeting behind closed doors with board attorneys Anne Littlefield and Peter Maher to discuss legal options when faced with a budget school officials repeatedly have said would not be sufficient. The board in March had threatened to take the city to court if adequate funding were not provided.

After the vote, Dolliver and board Chairwoman Yvette Jacaruso said every contractor and vendor will be contacted in the coming days for possible renegotiations, from Norwich Free Academy and other schools where Norwich pays tuition for regular or special education to labor unions, service contractors and supply vendors.

“Anybody that we do business with,” Dolliver said. “We’re going to be looking at everything.”

Dolliver said the November meeting was chosen as a point where the school year will be settled down and contractual experience well known. Language in the resolution protecting grant obligations was necessary because some grants require matching shares, and the board wanted to be sure spending cuts didn’t jeopardize those grants.

Asked if she was hopeful the renegotiations could find $4 million in savings, Dolliver said: “As I’ve said before, I think what we put forth is a responsible budget. I will be hopeful that we can find some savings.”

On June 4, the City Council approved a $78,469,829 million school budget with an overall 3 percent spending increase over this year’s $76.1 million total, far less than the $83 million requested, 9 percent above this year’s $76.1 million total. The school board since March has asserted that it needs the full $83 million it requested to function next year. The board emerged from a March budget workshop with a statement read by Jacaruso threatening to take the city to court if not provided with adequate funding.

The current school budget also will finish with a deficit ranging from $1.5 million to $2 million — at this point closer to $2 million, school Business Administrator Athena Nagel told the board Tuesday prior to the closed-door session. The board is expected to ask the City Council in August to cover the final shortfall for the 2017-18 school year.

After Tuesday’s vote, Jacaruso said legal counsel recommended this as “an interim solution.”

“And I hope it all turns out in a very peaceful way, everything is resolved and everyone is accepting,” Jacaruso said. “That will be a tall order, a very tall order, but I think by talking and looking at the different accounts that we have, maybe we can do something.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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