In an effort to maintain services and adjust to a funding cliff left with a federal jobs grant expiring, School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. has requested a 3.88 percent increase for the 2012-13 school year, but the request doesn’t come without reductions including the elimination of 22 full-time positions.
The superintendent’s budget, which was released to the public on Thursday, asks members to approve an $82.7 million budget for the upcoming year. The request includes $1.93 million, or 2.39 percent, in new spending and an additional $1.16 million, or 1.49 percent, to help adjust for a federal education jobs fund grant that will run out at the end of the current fiscal year.
The operating budget for the Board of Education is $79.61 million for the current year and $80.77 million after including the jobs grant.
“It is my belief that this proposed budget represents the program priorities set forth by this Board of Education and also represents a plan that continues to maintain the needed resources for all children,” Erardi wrote in a letter to the board.
Erardi said in the letter that the plan represents “the most difficult work I have done since arriving in Southington.”
The elimination of 22 positions represents the largest change over the current fiscal year, with the reduction affecting all levels. The plan calls for eliminations of four teaching positions at , one position each in the middle schools and nine teaching positions in various elementary schools. Seven special education paraprofessionals in the district would also be eliminated.
The decision to make the reductions was a difficult one, Erardi said, but he is confident that the schools will be able to maintain long range planning to fund technology and keep class sizes manageable at the elementary school level. District goals are to avoid exceeding an 18-student maximum in kindergarten, 22-student class sizes in grades 1 and 2, and 24 students per class in grades 3 through 5.
Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski said the board will take a close look at class sizes in particular as they consider the position reductions and are hopeful that even in eliminating full-time positions, the adjustment can be made without having to lay off any personnel.
“We are hoping this is really a reduction and not a cut,” Goralski said. “My hope is that we will be able to maintain the record we have been so proud of, of not laying off an employee.”
The board has already accepted several retirements that will go into effect at the end of the year and are hoping other traditional turnover will account for the remaining position reductions. It’s still early in the process, he said, and a lot needs to be discussed.
While there are reductions in the superintendent’s proposal, Erardi’s plan does include several line moderate item increases in areas that have been neglected in recent years, including technology. The $107,023 increase in technology is designed to help address both short- and long-term equipment replacements within the district.
Other notable cost increases include contractual obligations based on wage increase in union contracts, increased transportation costs and insurance increases.
The town’s Self Insurance Committee noted last month that there was an 88-member increase in those covered under the town’s policy, many of which were added to the Board of Education side. Paired with an increase in premiums, this accounts for a 5.9 percent increase based on allocation rates.
Contractually, the town is also looking at a 2.35 percent raise for administrators, a 3.5 percent raise for teachers and a 2.5 percent raise for nurses based on union agreements. All three groups have adjusted and agreed to zero percent increases in past years.
The Board of Education is currently in contract negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME represents custodians, maintenance staff, secretaries and food service employees. The Connecticut School Educators Association contract, which represents paraprofessionals, is also under negotiation.
The Board of Education will begin working through the budget on Tuesday, Jan. 17, with a second workshop on Thursday, Jan. 19. The board is expected to approve a budget to be sent to the Board of Finance on Jan. 26.
“To me, this is an easy budget request to defend,” Goralski said. “This is a reasonable budget for the board to begin working from. Now we will need to see if the economic climate will allow us to do so.”
School superintendents have made the following requests, by percentage increase, over the past decade:
School Year Percentage Increase 2002-2003 7.8% 2003-2004 8.2% 2004-2005 8.9% 2005-2006 8.9% 2006-2007 7.8% 2007-2008 7.7% 2008-2009 6.8% 2009-2010 4.4% 2010-2011 4.53% 2011-2012 2.08% 2012-2013 3.88%