The Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously to approve to FY 2019-2020 budget at its Feb. 28 meeting. Three board members were absent, however – John O’Connor, Ellen Michaels, and Joanne Borrus.
The school budget will go to the Board of Finance (BOF) this week for discussion and approval, then to the Representative Town Meeting for final approval.
All boards, departments, and commissions will present their FY19 budgets to the BOF and to the public this week. The BOF’s first budget hearing begins tonight, followed by meetings on Tuesday, March 13; Thursday, March 15; and Monday, March 19, at 7 p.m. All meetings will be held at Fire Headquarters, 45 North Main St., second floor.
The recommendation to approve the school budget was made at the BOE’s Personnel and Finance Committee last month where discussions took place. Several workshops prior to the meeting had either been canceled or postponed. The full board (minus the 3 absentees) simply voted on it without discussion.
The total requested for the operating budget is $56,888,225, a 1.95 percent increase over this year’s, and $968,120 for the capital budget.
The Board of Education’s budget represents the largest line item in the town’s budget.
As presented the budget cuts seven certified staff positions although which ones are not specified. Board member John O’Connor, who chairs the Personnel and Finance Committee, expressed concern, asking, “How can we do it without hurting humans?” The teachers’ contract specifies bumping, based on experience; teachers with more experience would have priority over those with less experience. O’Connor said he was impressed with the staff, noting that many are tenured.
O’Connor said that a number of teachers are over 60, but if early retirement is offered, their insurance must be paid for, adding that perhaps a way could be found to offer insurance at no cost to the board working with the Branford Education Association, the teachers’ union.
Questions put to Chief Operation Officer Don Neel by the committee concerned:
• The cost of unemployment for teachers: $16,000 for 26 weeks, plus $2,000 if there are dependents
• The cost of health insurance for those who stay with the school’s program, which they must pay out of pocket: $10,870 (1), $21,740 (2), and $29,375 (family).
• The number of active certified teachers in the 59 to 64 age group: 26
• Two additional positions were questioned: one is a technology position and the other is an athletic trainer position that went from certified to non-certified. The other personnel expense is an additional security position at Walsh due construction and change in drop-off points and a part-time position at the Family Resource Center at Indian Neck, which was described as “off the beaten path.”
• The $112,000 line item for software site licenses is cyclical; they come up for renewal every couple of years.
Board member Shannen Sharkey questioned the large number of coaches in the school district. Coaches are brought in to assist teachers in implementing the curriculum. “How are we looking at this model and evaluating its worth… its impact on students, test scores, and teachers?” she asked. Schools Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez said the program is in the third year, still “in its infancy.” He said the results have already been seen in going through a cycle. “We’re seeing growth,” he said. “Something of this magnitude takes time… we still have room to improve.” There is no plan to add additional coaches, he said in response to Sharkey’s question about increasing the emphasis on science in the next year. (There is already a science coach at the high school and at Walsh.)
Board member John Prins commented that a decline in enrollment doesn’t mean cost reduction. He said that four out of 10 students have special needs.
Sharkey said that she would like to see the cost of emergency response training for teachers added to the budget so teachers feel comfortable taking care of the children. She considers it being “proactive” and money well spent.
Assistant Superintendent Anthony Buono said he looked into ALICE training (active shooter response), which costs $200 per person and will make a recommendation to the BOE.
The Capital Budget
Chief Financial Officer Don Neel and Joseph Carbone (pictured R-L), supervisor of facilities and grounds, discussed the $968,120 capital budget for 2018-2019, which is year two of the overall five-year plan. Hernandez explained that the figure comes from a combination of $416,000 from the general fund, $271,000 debt bond note, and $281,000 from new designated capital. He said those numbers are arrived in “close coordination” with Finance Director Jim Finch.