At Tuesday evening’s school Finance Committee meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Finance Michael Grove unveiled a preliminary budget for next school year that reflects an increase of nearly $4.8 million over this year’s budget. Grove attributed much of the increase to the loss of $2,680,000 in Education Jobs funds, federal dollars that will come to an end after this year, and to projected increases of more than $1 million in health insurance costs.
This budget shows what would be needed to maintain current staffing levels and programs, Grove told the committee. The city has held school spending flat for the past three years. If that happens again this year, “this board is going to have to discuss which school we’re closing,” said Superintendent Dr. Mark Benigni.
“We’re in fantasy land if we think we’re getting four and a half percent,” commented board member Scott Hozebin. He requested that the administration provide an idea of what cuts would have to be made if the city once again granted no increase in school spending.
Michael Cardona, the new school board liaison to the city council, said it is the board’s responsibility to advocate against that. The board shouldn’t be defeatist in expecting a 0% increase, he said, but should be realistic in considering the possibility.
If that happens, Benigni said, “you’re talking about reducing staffing levels to critical points.”
In the past four school years, the district has cut nearly 100 jobs, according to numbers presented by Grove. “I’m not sure we can continue to operate by cutting and cutting and cutting,” Benigni warned. “We’re going to reach the breaking point at some point.”
In addition to absorbing salaries for 39.7 staff positions previously paid for through federal Education Jobs funds as well as a teacher furlough day, this budget reflects tuition increases of $1.4 million. These costs include an 8.8% increase for special education, totaling nearly $843,000.
While this early version of the budget includes some big increases, it also incorporates several savings measures. Three central office positions are being eliminated--an adult education administrator and two clerical positions. In addition, some costs for heat and electricity will be shifted to the Food Service budget, making them reimbursable by the state.
The administration is looking at other ways to reduce the numbers, as well. One idea mentioned was to work with state legislators to change the law affecting the way Meriden is reimbursed for Edison Magnet School tuition costs. The state reimburses Meriden at a different level than other magnet schools, which have lower local populations. If Meriden were to be reimbursed at the same level as other magnet schools, the city would save $2.1 million a year.
Besides presenting cost-saving ideas, Grove pointed out that many line items in the proposed budget stayed flat. Expenditures for instructional supplies remain well below levels from a decade ago, he showed. The textbook budget, for example, comes in at just over half of the 2000-01 budget.
“This is a very preliminary budget proposal with a lot of unknown variables,” Benigni cautioned. The budget won’t be formally submitted to the city until the end of January, and adjustments can be made until May.