BERLIN – After voters shot down a $45.6-million general government budget and a $43.9-million school budget Tuesday, stating both were “too high,” the superintendent of schools is expressing his concern with the likely cuts to follow.
“I’m disappointed,” said Brian Benigni, Superintendent of Berlin schools. “I thought it was a responsible budget.”
This was the first year the budget was split with the town and school budgets voted on separately. The Board of Finance, also new, created the budget in collaboration with Benigni and the school board as well as town departments.
“I thought we made drastic cuts already,” Benigni said Thursday.
Reductions included two teachers at the high school and one teacher at the elementary school, as well as the elimination of an elementary school assistant principal.
At the end of the budget process, before the budget was sent to a vote, members of the Board of Education were able to find nearly $1 million in employee health insurance savings to bring the school budget from a 4.3 percent increase over last year to 1.99 percent.
Additions such as a new elementary school teacher, due to increased class sizes, and the future hiring of a security director for the district were dependent on whether the budget passed.
“We haven’t had discussions yet,” Benigni said.
Historically the town budget is usually stated “too high” on the advisory questions with the school budget as “too low.” This year 1,390 people voted “too high” and 150 voted “too low,” on the school budget with 1,477 “too high” votes for the general government budget and 245 voting “too low.”
“We’ll listen to the people,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski about the results Tuesday. “No doubt we’ll probably have to make significant cuts.”
Benigni said he’s concerned about what more reductions could entail.
“We made a lot of cuts up front so it’s concerning for people to think more needs to be cut,” he said.
He said he did not personally receive any negative feedback on the budget before referendum due to the little impact of cuts on programs and students.
“I’m not sure that was representative of the entire community,” Benigni said of the final vote.
Registrar of Voters reported the voting as “much higher” than last year, when a little more than 7 percent of registered voters come out to the polls. This year, more than 10 percent of voters participated.
A second referendum will be held in the next few weeks after the finance board and town council revise and approve a new budget.
“We’re going to roll up our sleeves and start all over again,” said Sam Lomaglio, Republican Board of Finance chairman.
The finance board will meet for a special meeting tonight, Thursday, April 26, at 7 p.m., at town hall.
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