After a slight reduction realized in a $50,000 transportation savings, the Board of Education passed an $82.65 million budget request for the 2012-13 school year.
Board members unanimously passed the budget after just a small discussion Thursday evening at the . The budget request represents a $3.04 million, or 3.82 percent, increase over the approved budget for the current fiscal year and includes just $1.88 million in new spending after factoring in a federal jobs grant used to supplement this year’s budget.
The budget proposal includes a proposed reduction of 22 staffing positions including 15 teachers, although the location of those position cuts remains undecided at this point. Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski said it was a tough decision to make, but one the board had to consider.
“Reducing 22 staff positions makes me incredibly uncomfortable, especially with the number of teachers. Right now we only have eight retirements and so as of this moment, it will put eight people out of work,” Goralski said. “It’s tough to think we will be contributing to this bad economy.”
School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. initially presented a budget proposal that , including $1.93 million in new spending. Most of this spending was due to contractual increases, he said Thursday, and a review of transportation costs allowed for a reduction of $50,000.
While the request surpasses a 3 percent increase, $1.16 million is attributed to a federal jobs grant drying up and it left the board in a tough position before the process even got underway, according to board member Jill Notar-Francesco.
The Board of Finance and Town Council voted to reduce the budget in 2011, favoring instead using a $1.16 million grant to balance the request. That left a 1.49 percent hole for the Board of Education entering this budget cycle, Notar Francesco said.
“I’m still very concerned about cutting teaching positions at the elementary school level, but am encouraged that with flexibility, we could figure out how not to cut so much,” she said.
One of the challenges facing the board has been the unknown of Education Cost Sharing funding at the state level, first-year board member Zaya Oshana said. Due to reductions in funding during past years, the board planned for a 72 percent award from the state.
Oshana said he’s concerned that if the state does not follow through on their end, it will lead to additional challenges and is not confident that Southington will receive even 72 percent.
“The process is just ineffective,” Oshana said. “At 72 percent, we are already getting $683,035 less than we should be receiving. If there is any way to push harder for that, it’s something we need to do. Something has to be done with those mandates – we are running blind.”
The Board of Education request will now be forwarded to the Board of Finance, who will begin discussing the budget when they start their process in February.
Board of Finance members Edward Pocock II and Sandra Feld, who attended the Thursday’s meeting, said there will be a difficult challenge ahead as they look to balance the needs of the taxpayer with the needs of the school district.
“There is still a lot of work to be done,” Feld said. “Nobody wants to see teachers eliminated and any discussion by the Board of Finance will talk about how important we feel education is. We’ve done a lot of research already, but we have a lot still to do.”