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School Board Proposes Budget Increase Of 1.14%

Lowest Increase In Spending From One Year To The Next Seen In A Decade

Unlike years past, there wasn’t much hue and cry after the school board unveiled its proposed new budget for the boards of finance and selectmen.

When the recommended operating budget for 2011-12 calls for an increase in spending of 1.14 percent, there wasn’t much there that might alarm the officials who are the town’s fiscal watchdogs.

The budget increase is the lowest seen in a decade in Clinton and is in sharp contrast to the 5.6 percent increase Superintendent of Schools Jack Cross requested last year.

When the cost of debt redemption and capital improvements are added, the proposed school budget amounts to $31.53 million, a 1.71 percent increase that equates to $529,030 more than current spending.

Adopted by the school board virtually without change, the $30.5 million budget results from savings in three key areas, Cross said: salaries, health insurance, and transportation.

In negotiating a new teachers’ contract, a state arbitration board ruled for the town in freezing salaries in the first year of the agreement, but Cross said there also was a recognition that teachers needed to participate in cost containment. 

In taking an aggressive approach to combat expected and worrisome increases in insurance premiums, Cross said school administrators decided to put the package out to competitive bid and engaged in “strong negotiations” that resulted in no increase in insurance cost in the coming fiscal year.

 “It’s the first time in a very long time we will have no increase to our health insurance premium,” he said.

While transportation expense will rise above current costs, the new bus contract still will save the town some $40,000 from the previous transportation contract, he said.

There also were savings created by the loss of 10 staff positions last year, forced by referendum-mandated budget cuts, and a “reshaping and restructuring of the workforce” to address teaching needs, rather than trying to add staff. 

The new budget does not restore staffing, Cross said, but does call for the use of a $328,000 Federal Jobs Fund grant to hire a first grade teacher and two special education paraprofessionals, and to continue the employment of a part-time coordinator of the school system’s healthy foods program.

With an unexpectedly large kindergarten class set to move into first grade, the teacher is needed to contain class sizes at 18-20 students, he said, and the hire should be offset with retirements later this year.

The paraprofessionals are one-year positions, and the school cafeteria program is expected to be financially self-supporting, Cross explained.

Cross and Assistant Superintendent Maryann O’Donnell said the new budget supports the continuing development and implementation of a new curriculum, including necessary supplies and programs that include world language, all-day kindergarten, early literacy support, and college credit courses.

The budget also restores the afterschool enrichment programs that were lost in last year’s budget cuts.

The largest portion of the operating budget – 60 percent – is allocated for instruction, Cross said, at $18.67 million including out-of-district tuition expenses, while 20 percent of spending covers infrastructure costs and the final 20 percent pays for benefits.

The operating budget is $344,772 more than the current budget, while the total proposal – now being reviewed by the finance board – is $529,030 more.

Kathleen February 23, 2011 at 08:03 PM
The BOE continues to keep close to the wire. Education isn't free and it takes a village, or town. I hope this year, we can have a seamless approval process and send a message to our school professionals that we support education. Children didn't make the economic mess we're left with, they shouldn't pay for it.
Steve Bristol February 23, 2011 at 10:12 PM
The bottom line is a decent effort, though I would have liked to see mention of increased contributions to health and retirement....or, at least mention of what those contributions actually are so we can decide if it's the best we could do. I expect that this year's astounding no healthcare increase will not be repeated....especially if Obamacare is deemed Constitutional. This, combined with pay increases in the next two years will undoubtedly lead to a return of high single-digit increases--or larger-- in future budget requests. Kathleen---That dog don't hunt. Just because a resident votes against a budget request doesn't mean that resident doesn't support education. We currently spend >$14K/student; we need to expect better results for that money. Hopefully, the curriculum/teaching changes being instituted will improve things over time but there's a lot of improvement needed and I won't hold my breath. I've seen lots of 'educational miracle fixes' in my 54 years, and none have seemed to work as well as the old way. They just seem to lower overall expectations rather than raise them.

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