School Board OKs $397M Spending Plan

Melissa Bailey PhotoThe school board voted to ask for an extra $5.3 million in city taxpayer money to keep the schools running next year—and prepared to make cuts if that money doesn’t come through.

By unanimous vote Monday night, the school board voted 5-0 to approve the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The overall proposal totals $396,524,351, a $4.5 million or 1 percent increase over the current budget year. That includes a $186 million operating budget, plus other costs—including medical benefits, debt service, pension and workers’ compensation—that the city pays for through other accounts.

Click here and here to read the budget.

The proposal includes a wishful $5.3 million increase to the $18.3 million “city contribution” to the operating budget—the amount that city taxpayers set aside directly for the schools.

Superintendent Garth Harries acknowledged Monday that Mayor Toni Harp and the Board of Alders, who determine the board’s operating budget, are likely to deny that request.

“We recognize that we may not get all of this,” said Harries.

He said the request aims to send a message: That’s how much the school system needs to maintain “baseline” costs with no new positions or initiatives.

The budget now passes to Harp, who is required to submit her own budget by March 1; aldermen then pass a budget based on her proposal.

In an interview with the Independent Friday, Harp said she would not approve a $5.3 million increase in city taxpayer contributions, but she is willing to give the school system a smaller increase. (Harp didn’t say how much. She didn’t attend Monday’s school board meeting because she was meeting with aldermen about the budget.)

The figure that’s likely to bear the brunt of attention during upcoming budget hearings is the $186 million proposed general fund budget for the schools, which would rise by $8,758,120 or 3 percent compared to this year. The vast majority of that money is paid for by state grants. The amount paid for by city taxpayers would be $23.6 million.

Harries said that budget represents the “baseline” amount of money required to maintain services and the same number of teachers in classrooms. The largest increases fall in personnel: Wages are rising for everyone from janitors to executive managers, which is boosting overall personnel costs from $179.7 million to $183.7 million (including positions paid for by outside grants). Transportation is going up from $16.9 million to $17.9 million.

Will Clark, the schools chief operating officer, said because of recent contract settlements, every school board employee is getting a raise this year. The school board is making use of a $53 million five-year federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant to pay for teachers and principals’ pay raises. But the school system is still facing extra costs in educator salaries, Clark said, because some outside grants that the district was using to pay salaries are expiring, forcing the district to shift those positions to its general operating budget.

The school district is expecting some relief from the state: New Haven is due to receive an extra $3.3 million in the Education Cost Sharing grant, the state’s main way of paying for schools, bringing the total to $150,438,559. However, that extra money can’t be counted on until legislators approve amendments to the biennial budget.

Even with the extra help from the state, there’s still a $5.3 million gap, Harries said.

Harries told his board members that Harp likely would not approve that entire $5.3 million increase, but that they should ask for it anyway.

“The reality is, we have done more with less consistently over the last six or so years,” Harries said. The district endured three years of flat-funding before seeing some increases from the state and city in 2012. The city increased its contribution by $1.2 million in fiscal year 2012-13 and by another $3 million the following year. The state came through with extra money—$3.8 million and $7.9 million—in those years as well.

Whether or not the city approves the $5.3 million increase, Harries said, the school system needs to prepare for cuts. To create any new initiative—such as one to help truant kids—the schools would have to cut from other places, he said.

Harries said the school system wants to avoid making last-minute cuts. Last year, Harries, who took office in July and inherited a $3.5 million structural deficit, created a stir by eliminating middle-school classrooms from two schools right before school started.

Harries said this year, he will come up with proposed cuts by June 1.

Board member Alex Johnston suggested the school district come up with a prioritized list of what cuts the schools would make first—and what it would not cut—to inform alders’ decision-making process as they consider the schools budget.

Harries replied that he did not want to negotiate specific cuts with alders, or end up in a situation where alders place specific demands on how the money is spent. Right now, alders simply vote on the overall general operating budget; they don’t have line-by-line control of school spending.

He stressed that Monday’s budget is a working proposal, not a finished product.

“This is the start of a process, both on the city’s side and the board’s side,” he said.

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posted by: JohnTulin on February 25, 2014  12:06pm

Before tax payers sink another dime into the schools…survey all teachers and parents about ways to save money.  Every NHPS teacher sees the sickening amounts of waste daily.  We can list many ways off the top of our heads, w/o accounting degrees or looking at the numbers.  Crunch the numbers, and you can save that much more.  No show jobs, para-professionals used to run personal errands, administrators who do lunch duty and hall duty all day, cronyism, teachers w/ 8 kids in class (not for the good reasons), lights and heat left on all day/night, “free” lunches and breakfast tossed on the floor after kid drinks the juice only, trashed computers, lost books…I could go on and on.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on February 25, 2014  12:57pm

Harries replied that he did not want to negotiate specific cuts with alders, or end up in a situation where alders place specific demands on how the money is spent.

Why not? Why not come clean with the alders and say what would be cut if the additional $5.3 million is granted? I think it’s irresponsible to not provide this information.

posted by: webblog on February 25, 2014  1:37pm

The Board of Education would approve a chopped liver sandwich, unanimously and without debate. After all, it was Board member Alex Johnston who recently said the board had never before seen a budget report.

The main problem with this and prior budgets submitted by the BOE is that it unverifiable.

The city finance department submits a budget which does not match what the BOE is allocating. The BOA falsely believes it only has review over the bottom line and not line items, although as the article points out “The amount paid for by city taxpayers would be $23.6 million”.

On top that, neither budget(s) matches the allocations from the Ct. State in the form of ECS and school transportation grants.
“Education Cost Sharing grant, the state’s main way of paying for schools, bringing the total to $150,438,559. However, that extra money can’t be counted on until legislators approve amendments to the biennial budget”.

Therefore, in the absence of accurate information, city taxpayers pick up the slack and cost overruns due to the lack of oversight by both the BOE and BOA.

Taxpayers take notice, business as usual.

posted by: RHeerema on February 25, 2014  3:38pm

I would love to see a stacked line graph, by source of income (city general funds, private grants, state, federal), across the last 5 to 10 years to see the trend line of how the BOE is securing & spending money.  Is anything like that available?

posted by: Radimom on February 25, 2014  8:27pm

Didn’t airlines famously ask employees to suggest ways to save money, back awhile, with great success?  Why doesn’t the BOE ask employees where costs could be cut?  Yes, lights are left on all the time, rooms are heated to excess such that windows are left open (drive by any school, day or night, to see this), computers are left on 24/7 “because they update them at night.”  Ever see the study Yale did on unplugging all the printers and chargers at night or on breaks?  Even with its big endowment cost saving is important.  Ever see how much PAPER is wasted by schools?  Ask the people in the halls and the trenches.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 25, 2014  8:40pm

At a cost of nearly $400 million - about $19K per student - the idea there are no savings is ludicrous. Blaming on increases in staff salaries means one or more of several things: The increases should not have been approved; there are too many employees and frankly, too many schools. By the way, this budget continues the practice of previous budgets by allocating far too little money for adequate maintenance of all these buildings.

posted by: Radimom on February 25, 2014  10:57pm

And what about the “debt service” on the loans—for all of that school building program?  How much are we now sacrificing for our children’s education, so ex- mayor John could build all those schools? I’d like to see what portion of the budget goes to pay those costs.

posted by: wcproclaimer on February 27, 2014  7:31pm

Noteworthy: So what you are saying is that you want to cut jobs (Despite the overwhelming majority of teachers getting high ratings on their T-Vals) and force class size up?

How are we to attract quality teachers or retain the ones we have if we don’t pay them a living wage?

So, should we or should we not cut the budget? After all you yourself admit that the schools are in adequately cared for. As a student (Someone who has spent a decade in the schools) I’d like to see three things: 1) more teachers,  with good pay. 2.) unionized custodians with a decent budget and 3.) Real food in the cafeterias.

Also Radimom, it’s kind of nice to have new schools, with things like water fountains, adequate space, libraries, and sunlight. Like the buildings we have, unlike the schools we used to have…So yeah i guess we could have done without those LUXURIOUS conditions. Except, ya know, functional buildings are kinda important.

posted by: canadachris on February 28, 2014  5:18pm

The Board of Education must be made to realize the open check, gravy train days of the Mayo administration must end. What are the results of the millions we have poured into the schools? The new buildings were needed but the results of the teaching are abysmal. The school system cannot blame the poor performance on bad facilities. Pouring millions more into the schools will not produce results except to hire more administrators and provide wage increases. I have a child who attend a NH public school. It was a nightmare.