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.