Southington schools in ‘soft freeze’ on spending in response to looming cuts in state aid

Southington schools in ‘soft freeze’ on spending in response to looming cuts in state aid


SOUTHINGTON — Board of Education officials discussed a “soft freeze” on spending in anticipation of what could be massive cuts in state aid.

With no state budget adopted, school and town officials are uncertain whether Southington will get anywhere near last year’s state aid, and they’re anticipating cuts.

Late last month, Republican Town Council Chairman Michael Riccio and Democratic minority leader Chris Palmieri sent a letter asking that School Superintendent Tim Connellan and Town Manager Garry Brumback prepare for the possibility of the elimination of the town’s Education Cost Sharing funding from the state.

“We are optimistic that we will never have to exercise this option but feel strongly that it would be inappropriate not to at least start planning,” they wrote. “We are asking that these documents be prepared no later than October 20.”

Connellan and school board Chairman Brian Goralski said the school district has halted or closely scrutinized spending on many materials such as paper, pencils, new textbooks and equipment. Some purchases such as cleaning materials and animals for biology lab classes must be made.

“Other than that we’re really looking at freezing just about all the purchases,” Connellan said. “We are in a soft freeze.”

Those efforts could result in the district holding about a million dollars.

Due to state and federal requirements, the school district can only cut so much without risking a violation.

“Educational services are heavily laden with state and federal mandates,” he said. “There are very few services being provided in the public schools that can be reduced due to the mandates.”

Connellan said the district would also put a moratorium on professional development outside the district other than that required by state law. In-district development would continue, he said.

The money saved by these measures wouldn’t make up the shortfall if Southington is cut as badly as some anticipate, Connellan said. There’s also little the district can do to curtail the bulk of its spending.

“Eighty percent of our budget is salaries and benefits and 15 percent is purchased services,” he said.

Goralski said he would rather meet with the Town Council and Board of Finance about cost reduction measures than publicly announce what might be cut. Town officials can extrapolate what further state aid reductions would mean from the 14 teaching positions, textbook funds and middle school sports cut from this year’s budget. Those measures saved about a $1 million.

Connellan’s cost-cutting measures announced Thursday were the first made public.

“We don’t want to get more specific than that until we have to,” Goralski said. “There are so many unknowns. We strongly believe knee-jerk reactions or extremes simply raise fear and divides (the community).”

With the cost of materials already reduced, further cuts would have to come from staff and programs, he said.

Daniel Hart, president of the Southington Education Association, said the state’s late budget has caused “chaos” for towns and school districts. His union is fortunate in Southington, Hart said, where there was better planning than in some municipalities for deep cuts.
Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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