Stonington Board of Education approves 2023-24 budget with 7.8% increase
Stonington ― The Board of Education voted 5-1 on Thursday to approve a revised version of Superintendent Mary Anne Butler’s proposed 2023-24 budget which now shows a 7.89% increase.
Chairman Farouk Rajab and members Heidi Simmons, Craig Esposito, Sara Baker and Kevin Agnello voted to approve the $42 million budget, and Christopher Donahue voted against it.
Donahue thanked the superintendent and Finance Director Alisha Stripling for their hard work, but said he was not comfortable with approving such a large increase.
“I don’t want to see reductions in classroom teachers, I just believe there’s other reductions that we can make to lower the budget,” he said, adding that he would suggest a hiring freeze.
He added that additional work on the budget was unlikely to change his vote.
“I don’t think we’ll get it to the number I’m comfortable with,” he said.
Butler explained that the originally proposed 8.22% increase was reduced due to lower than expected projected costs for retired employees’ health insurance.
Retired district employees are able to pay to maintain health coverage through the town until they become eligible for Medicare.
Before receiving estimates for the coming year, the town told the district to expect an expense for the coverage. When the town received the estimates, the district’s contribution to the health benefits trust fund were able to be revised to zero, reducing the budget by $125,000.
“It bumped us down below that 8%, and it was a nice thing to discover since last week,” Butler told the board.
The proposed budget shows that spending allocated for each school was reduced by a total of $827,446 compared to the current budget, and cost savings of $93,886 were realized by eliminating one bus as well as late buses at the elementary schools, among other cuts.
Nonetheless, increased expenses erase the savings.
Finance Director Alisha Stripling previously explained that inflation has increased expenses by 7.1%, costs for insurance have risen by an estimated 7.6%, Eversource rates have risen by 40% and salaries have risen due to contractual obligations as well as increased competition for teachers.
In addition, substitute staffing costs have increased between 52% and 244% depending on the school.
Additionally, in November, the district received only one bid for transportation, which came from the current contractor, First Student, and included a 14.75% increase.
Unfunded mandates also play a role in the increase to next year’s budget. For example, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has mandated shot clocks for all high school varsity basketball games in the state, at a cost to the town of $7,000 for the shot clock and an adult to operate it.
“I appreciate the support of the Board of Education throughout the budget process and especially last evening as they approved my recommended budget. I am confident the Board of Finance will respectfully consider the Board of Education's budget and make a decision that is both fiscally responsible and in the best interest of the children,” Butler said on Friday.
The budget now goes to the Board of Finance for review and approval. Residents will eventually vote on the proposed town and school budget this spring.