New London school board OKs $72.4 million budget proposal

New London — The Board of Education approved a $72.4 million budget for fiscal year 2020 on Thursday that includes a request for an 8 percent increase in funding from the city’s general fund.

The proposal heads to Mayor Michael Passero for consideration before it is presented to the City Council. It is not expected to move off Passero’s desk unscathed.

“It’s a major challenge. I hope the board understands it's simply not possible to ask the taxpayers to come up with an extra $3.5 million,” Passero said. “The increase in revenues they are projecting is most likely unrealistic.”

The proposal would require $46.6 million in funding from the city — about $24.1 million from taxpayers and the remainder from state Education Cost Sharing grant funds. The $25.8 million grant-funded portion of the school budget, down $1.3 million, is not taken up by the city. Passero said the request to taxpayers is a 17.8 percent increase from the $20.5 million in the current budget.

The overall school budget is a 3.1 percent increase over the current $70.2 million budget and remains unchanged from a proposal by Superintendent of Schools Cynthia Ritchie.

The proposal does not include the $1.1 million in Alliance District grant funding going to the district in Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed state budget. School officials said it would be unrealistic to include the funds before the state budget is finalized.

That money could help offset the $2.3 million in cost increases attributed to rises in salaries, insurance and transportation.

The school board on Thursday spent several hours debating possible cuts and additions before settling in for a unanimous vote. Some of the focus was on personnel.

The board, for instance, narrowly defeated a proposal by Jason Catala to add a second assistant principal at New London High School. School Board President Manuel Rivera unsuccessfully pitched the idea of adding an extra full-time administrator to the Science & Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut and a director of facilities as two major construction projects get underway.

The district is rebuilding its high school and middle school campuses to accommodate three distinct 6-12 magnet programs: STEM, visual and performing arts and International Baccalaureate. The high school in the fall will for the first-time host grades 9 and 10 from the arts magnet pathway.

Ritchie said the spending plan backs the district’s efforts to improve student achievement, sustains and expands its magnet programs and begins a new administrative structure as the district moves toward an all-magnet model.

The budget specifically increases personnel in the areas of arts and STEM, the two established magnet programs. Magnet pathway programs, which attract students from out-of-district, contribute $11.5 million annually to the district.

The district is in the candidacy phase for the third magnet pathway, International Baccalaureate. Jennings Elementary school is preparing for official IB designation by 2020 and the middle school hopes to join in 2021.

The budget funds a new full-time, districtwide grants writer and athletic director at the high school.

The school district projects student enrollment to increase by 185 students, from 3,512 to 3,697 students.

Passero is expected to present the city’s combined budget to the City Council by April 1.

g.smith@theday.com

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