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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Norwich approves preliminary budget with few changes

    Norwich ― The City Council approved a preliminary $151 million city and school budget Monday with few changes while waiting for word on state revenue and for school officials to make cuts.

    The General Assembly session, in which a state budget is approved with revenue for towns and cities, ends Wednesday.

    Residents will get a chance to comment on the budget at a public hearing next Monday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

    The school board in March approved a budget totaling $100 million, but City Manager John Salomone recommended a school budget of $93.2 million, a $6.8 million decrease.

    Another problem was that the school district had funded 52 positions using federal COVID-19 recovery grants that expire this year. At its April meeting, the school board adopted recommended staff cuts and administrative restructuring proposed by Acting Superintendent Susan Lessard covering the $4.8 million in expiring pandemic grants, still leaving the city budget gap.

    In recent weeks, Lessard said more salary adjustments and adjustments to non-salary fringe benefits cut $2.7 million from the total, putting the proposed school budget at $96,079,527, Lessard said Monday. The cuts likely will mean more staffing cuts, but Lessard said she could not yet identify those cuts.

    The only budget adjustment made by the City Council Monday was to add $66,600 to the registrar of voters’ budget to cover anticipated additional costs for the upcoming national election, including new early voting.

    Adjustments to revenues added $260,700 for next year, which will reduce the proposed tax rate by 0.1 mills.

    Parallel to budget cuts and administrative restructuring, Lessard will propose a building shuffling plan to the Board of Education at its May 14 meeting to tackle skyrocketing special education costs.

    The proposal calls for reversing a decision made earlier this year to turn over the former central office building at 90 Town St. to the city for sale. Administrative offices moved into the former Bishop School last summer, as preschool moved into elementary schools.

    Now, Lessard will propose moving the superintendent, assistant superintendent and director of student services offices back to 90 Town St. and creating a special education program at Bishop School to avoid the need to transport students with acute behavioral needs to programs out of town.

    Lessard said the initial program could serve four to five students in grades kindergarten through eight with potential to expand.

    She said it would not save money initially but would cut out-of-district placements and transportation in the long run, as well as improve services to students by keeping them close to home and allowing them to participate in local after-school programs, Lessard said.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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