The Finance Committee increased the budget for the slightly on the anticipation that the local share will not change and the difference will be covered by additional state funds.
Councilors unanimously approved a $40,626,406 budget, an addition of $809,001 over the current fiscal year’s approved budget of $39,817,405. This increase is what New London is expected to receive in additional Education Cost Sharing funds if passes the Connecticut State Legislature.
The Finance Committee also unanimously approved a motion inviting the Board of Education to approve transferring the costs of its business office, which oversees the school district finances and costs approximately $500,000 annually, to the municipal budget. This would not formally consolidate the city and school financial operations, but would be a step in that direction. The Board of Education will consider this offer and report back to the Finance Committee.
“You can spend it to save your finance department or you can spend it on the children. That’s how I see it,” said Council President Michael Passero, the committee chairman.
School budget proposals
The Board of Education , or $2,389,044, to bring the operating budget to $42,999,270. This request included a projection of $792,821 in additional ECS funds. The requested changes included:
- An increase for special services by $1,260,497 for a total of $6,081,563
- An increase for the grade schools by $1,246,879 to $15,791,199
- An increase for the of $529,386 to $9,641,512
- An increase for the administration of $147,323 to $2,753,381
- A decrease for the of $11,088 to $7,046,499
The district anticipates a $2,067,398 drop in anticipated grants, from $11,322,853 budgeted for in the current fiscal year and $9,255,455 projected for the 2013 fiscal year. The budget also incorporates a plan to consolidate the student bodies of and for the 2012-2013 school year at an anticipated savings of $597,000, minus moving costs and an early termination on a modular classroom lease.
Mayor Daryl Finizio’s budget proposed a three percent increase of $1,194,522 for a total budget of $41,011,927.
Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of New London Public Schools, said about 34 percent of the district’s funding comes from local taxes while the remainder comes from federal, state, and other funding and grants. He said the reasons for the anticipated increases include a negotiated salary increases of two percent, the district picking up $1.3 million in salaries and benefits formerly covered by the federal Education Job Sharing Grant, and an increase in special education and energy costs.
Fischer also provided tables showing anticipated cuts if the school budget was flat-funded or increased by three percent. These were calculated by the administrators at each school and included decreases in overtime, field trips, professional development, supplies and materials, and other areas.
Administrators also anticipated cutting 58.8 positions if the budget is flat-funded and 26 positions if the budget is increased by three percent. Flat funding would cut an estimated three positions at the central office, 27.8 positions at the elementary schools, 13 positions at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, and up to 15 positions at the New London High School. A three percent increase would cut an estimated two positions at the central office, 13.2 positions at the elementary schools, eight positions at the middle school, and 2.8 positions at the high school.
Fischer said the number of school positions has already declined from 469 in 2001 to 412 at present.
“There have been very significant reductions over the years,” he said.
Board of Education President Bill Morse said a number of methods have been used over the past year to improve student achievement following poor scores on the and tests. Morse said the district has seen marked improvement in reading and math since these efforts have started.
“We are on our way up, and I think it would be shortsighted to restrict academic growth by increasing class size and reducing the number of professionals who are working with our children,” said Morse.
“I just find it insulting”
During the budget process, administrative salaries have come under scrutiny by some councilors and board members. Finizio said in his “State of the City” address, where the budget was presented, that he made the recommendation for a three percent increase rather than a six percent increase in part because he found that 10 district employees are paid over $100,000 a year.
Councilor John Maynard criticized the table of anticipated cuts, saying he thought it had been drawn up without input by the Board of Education. Maynard also said he thought the cuts noted would have a greater effect on the children by cutting teachers and other staff.
“I just find it offensive, me personally, that you’re bringing me this list of teachers who would be cut and tell me these teachers are going to be cut if you don’t get what you want,” said Maynard.
Morse said the central office also includes employees who oversee services such as bilingual education, special education, and curriculum.
“We don’t really have anybody there who we’re not mandated to have,” said Morse.
Maynard maintained that he thought the cuts as proposed by the administrators were done without board input and would have a detrimental effect on students. Fischer said there have been four to five sessions to inform the board of the budget and that the school budget process is only half-completed, since the board must approve any cuts or other changes based on the city’s allocation. Fischer also criticized a remark by Maynard that several teaching positions could be preserved for any administrative position cut.
“I would like you to come down to our administrative office to see what they do before you start talking about cutting administrators,” he said.
“I want you to go into our schools and see what our teachers have to work with before you start talking about cutting teachers,” Maynard responded.
“I do that on a daily basis,” said Fischer.
“Well, not too well if you’re talking about cutting teachers,” said Maynard.
Don Macrino, the principal of the Waterford High School, said he did considered the process of having school administrators recommend any funding cuts to be a normal one, since administrators have a good sense of the school’s operations.
“This is always the most painful process we get involved in,” said Macrino.
Business office transfer
Passero said he considered that transferring the district’s business office funds to the municipal budget will free up that amount within the school budget. He said that between the transfer and additional ECS funds, the district will see an effective boost of about $1.3 million, or about $200,000 more than Finizio’s proposal.
The proposal to combine city and school financial operations has come up before. Finizio said he anticipates that the district can save more funds in the 2013 fiscal year through such a consolidation, and board member Margaret Curtin sought unsuccessfully to include a recommendation of such action to the Finance Committee as part of its budget proposal. However, Passero said his suggestions was a more tentative step for the new fiscal year rather than a proposal for immediate consolidation.
“I’m not proposing any type of consolidation of the two offices, because I think it would take a great deal more reorganization to do that,” he said.
Councilor Adam Sprecace said he felt it was a reasonable proposal.
“I think that is just one step that the city and the Board of Ed have to take toward consolidation,” he said.
Remaining budget process
The Board of Education, which , must make a determination on the committee’s recommendation and return a response. Passero said it is expected that the Finance Committee will meet on April 25 and again on April 30. A regular City Council meeting on the latter date will establish appropriation ordinances for the city and school district.
The appropriation ordinance must be submitted to the Board of Finance by May 1, which must schedule a public hearing before the Appropriating Board. The Board of Finance must then make its recommendations to the City Council by May 16, and the council must approve the appropriations by May 31.
Finizio may veto an appropriation within 10 days of its receipt or exercise a line item veto on all matters except those making appropriations for the Board of Finance, referendum expenses, or City Council’s legal counsel. The council may override any veto or line item veto by the vote of six councilors.
The appropriation ordinances go into effect at the start of the 2013 fiscal year on July 1.
Clarification: The middle school budget is declining because more expenses in that budget are being paid for by grants, according to Director of Business and Finance Maria Whalen; the school's actual operating budget is higher than the current fiscal year.