Lyme-Old Lyme school board approves budget that shows small decrease

In what Superintendent Ian Neviaser said is a first for the district, the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education approved a proposed 2020-21 budget that is less than the current budget but does not  cut programming or staff.

The $35,066,107 million budget is $18,651, or 0.05 percent less than the current $35,084,758 spending plan.

Neviaser said the decrease in large part is due to the district refinancing four of the six bonds it is  repaying for school renovation projects. This reduced the school’s debt service by more than $700,000. Neviaser said that while the refinancing dropped the bonds' interest rates it does not extend their repayment length. The bonds will be retired between 2021 and 2033.

"That’s the beauty of it," Neviaser said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a negative budget here before. So it’s really good news.”

Because the Region 18 school district sets its own budget, the finance boards in Old Lyme and Lyme do not approve the proposed education budget. Rather, residents vote on the education budget at a referendum in May.

Each town's portion of the budget is dictated by how many of its students are enrolled in the district. The enrollment numbers won't be available until April, Neviaser said.

Neviaser said a public hearing to again discuss the school budget will take place in early April.

Included in the proposed budget is funding for the second half of a project to replace the high school's six tennis courts. A total of $225,000 was included in the current budget to replace three of the courts while $240,000 has been placed in the proposed 2020-21 budget to replace the other three.

The $240,000 will also cover costs for a wind screen surrounding the courts, benches for athletes, bleachers and an equipment shed.

The project is scheduled to begin this spring and be completed this summer, Neviaser said.

The district has also budgeted $435,000 to renovate the Lyme School gymnasium.

The district's operating budget went up by 2.56 percent, or nearly $800,000, with half of that due to raises for employees. Employee benefits dropped by more than $110,000, while transportation costs jumped 29 percent, or $255,091, due to a new contract with M&J Bus Inc.

The budget calls for the hiring of one new kindergarten teacher due to increased enrollment.

The decision comes after the district implemented its new universal pre-school program this academic year. Eighty students are enrolled in the program, 18 more than what the district had predicted.

"It's been going great. It's tremendously popular," Neviaser said about the preschool program. "We are anticipating about the same number of students next year, but we are prepared, if we do get additional students."

Since last year, districtwide enrollment has increased by 39 students.

“I think we are starting to see growth,” Neviaser continued. “For many years, our district along with surrounding districts, were seeing a decline in enrollment and now, we just last year, saw a shift going the other way.”

Asked to explaining the increase, Neviaser said, “I think it’s due to the success of our schools, the number of our programs we offer, the small, welcoming environment … Certainly there are many factors for why people chose to come here, but I would say the (pre-school) program is also helping with enrollment.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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