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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    New London schools request hefty budget increase as pandemic funding evaporates

    New London ― The Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved a 2024-25 budget proposal that entails an $11.6 million increase from the current spending plan, a jump members attributed largely to the drying up of pandemic-related funding.

    The $83.2 million proposal calls for $50.8 million in funding from the city ― a $4.54 million jump from the current year.

    The budget includes the anticipated receipt of $32.4 million in federal, state and competitively awarded grants.

    The school board proposal is $250,000 less than Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie’s initial budget recommendation.

    Board President Elaine Maynard-Adams said the biggest cost driver this year is the expected loss of $10.9 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER, stimulus money.

    The district used a large chunk of that funding, along with state Smart Start monies, to operate and staff its pre-K programming at the B.P. Learned Mission Early Childhood Center.

    Maynard-Adams said the loss of that funding by September means using regular operational budget money to keep the program running. She said a bill sponsored by state Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, would, if approved, shift the costs of operating pre-K centers onto the state beginning in July.

    Maynard-Adams said the district is still waiting for firm employee health insurance figures, which are expected to rise, as well as figures related to a new school bus contract.

    She said certified employee salaries have risen in the proposed budget — from $28.5 million to $32.1 million when grant funding is included — but other line items have been reduced.

    “We have a lot of reduction in staff, though no teaching positions are being cut,” Maynard-Adams said. “We’ve cut an assistant superintendent and communications manager job and reduced the hours of the chief financial officer.”

    Prior to the budget vote, a public hearing on the spending plan attracted no commenters.

    In her budget presentation to the board, Ritchie listed several major cost-increase drivers, including inflation, unfunded state mandates, new multi-language learning and special education requirements and overall student population growth.

    Maynard-Adams said she expects Mayor Michael Passero and City Council members to make sharp cuts to the board’s spending plan.

    “For sure that’s going to happen,” she said. “As a taxpayer, I understand the pie is only so large, but it’s all about how that pie is divided.”

    While the city can modify the school board’s budget plan, it can only do so by adding or subtracting an overall amount. How those modifications are enacted is up to the board.

    Passero, who previously said he’s pushing to keep residents’ tax bills stable next year, is expected to release his city government budget proposal in April.

    j.penney@theday.com

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