Preston school board approves budget with 5.7 percent increase

Preston – The Board of Education Monday approved a proposed $11.86 million 2017-18 school budget with a 5.71 percent spending increase, mostly attributed to an expected increase of a dozen high school students at Norwich Free Academy and the proposed elimination of one state special education grant.

The budget — the final one presented by Superintendent John Welch prior to his retirement from Preston in June and move to part-time superintendent in Bozrah — includes a spending increase of $640,939 over this year's $11.2 million budget.

The Board of Education initially cut 0.5 percent of Welch's initial budget, for a $63,515 cut, but then added $248,300 in special education costs based on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal to eliminate the special education cost sharing grant program.

Without the added special education costs, the budget would have had a 3.5 percent increase.

The budget itself calls for no new programs and the reduction in staff by one teacher, a sixth-grade teacher who will retire this year and will not be replaced, Welch said. Preston will still have two sixth-grade classes, as the staff reduction would be absorbed by a shuffling of teaching duties at the middle school.

The salary line item in the proposed budget would total $5 million — a $24,553, or 0.5 percent, increase over this year, mainly due to expected increases planned for union contracts under negotiation for support staff and school buses and for the new superintendent. Welch's current $127,000 salary is budgeted. The superintendent search committee received 14 applications for a new superintendent, with a salary listed as “regionally competitive.”

Enrollment, projected at 292 for Preston Veterans' Memorial School and 124 for Preston Plains Middle School, is expected to remain stable next year. But Preston is expecting 12 additional students enrolled at NFA. The added students, combined with the 2.5 percent academy tuition increase, is the main factor in a projected $255,924 increase in the regular education tuition total of $2.09 million, Welch said. The 13.9 percent regular education high school tuition increase makes up half of the overall budget increase.

Special education tuition costs are expected to increase by $255,924 to a total of $1.6 million, a 5.1 percent increase.

The governor's proposed budget, with its dramatic restructuring of municipal education aid and costs, could leave Preston with a loss of $485,571 in state aid, mostly because of a new plan by the governor to charge Preston for one-third of teacher retirement plan pension costs for local teachers and NFA teachers, a total of $457,631 next year.

The board also approved a five-year capital plan budget totaling $2.2 million, including $1.1million to cover several projects at both town schools.

At Preston Plains Middle School, projects include repaving the main parking lot, upgrading science labs, replacing 175 student lockers and installing new floors in student bathrooms. Projects at Preston Veterans' Memorial School include rubber matting for the playground swing set and replacing the exterior fence that runs along Route 2.

The remainder of the capital budget would cover the purchase of new school buses to gradually replace the town's school bus fleet.

c.bessette@theday.com

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