Stonington finance board issues guideline for no increase in 2020-21 school budget

Stonington — The Board of Finance recommended to school officials Wednesday night that they have no increase in their proposed 2020-21 budget while town department heads hold their increases to no more than 2 percent.

Each fall before the first selectman, departments heads and school officials begin creating their proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year, the finance board offers a guideline for acceptable budget increases. If a proposed budget exceeds the guidelines, the finance board will ask for justification for the increase.

The finance board based its guidelines on the 1.6 percent cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients and the 0.4 percent increase in the grand list.

The town also is facing a 2.6 percent salary increase for its employees. Board members explained that the reason they issued a guideline for a zero percent increase in the school budget is that the school system will have some offsetting savings in 2020-21, such as a decrease in expensive out-of-district student placements, savings from the closing of two school buildings, decreasing enrollment and other factors.

In recent months, board members also have expressed frustration about not being able to get school officials to answer questions about how they have transferred surplus money in some line items to other line items, where they were used for additional expenditures. The board is now looking at having the annual town audit also examine line item spending in the school budget.

The Board of Finance also learned Wednesday that it cost the town $619,000 — $106,000 less than expected — to complete demolition and clean up debris from the former Connecticut Casting Mill on Stillman Avenue.

The town is studying the site along the Pawcatuck River to better determine the level of contamination in the ground and what it will cost to clean it up before deciding whether to take possession of the site. One suggestion has been to turn it into a public park.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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