MERIDEN — The Board of Education’s Finance Committee voted Tuesday to reduce its 2019-20 budget request for next year by $915,000 to close an anticipated funding gap of $1.5 million for next year.
The reductions notably include the elimination of the extended day program at Roger Sherman — expected to save $374,000 — and elimination of a high school credit diploma program offered during the day to students who drop out of public schools but want to obtain their high school diploma — expected to save $231,000.
Other adjustments included saving $74,000 by leaving a college coach position vacant, cutting $115,000 in tuition costs for special education and Thomas Edison Middle School based on new projections, and using $106,000 in federal grant money to pay for an elementary-level Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM, teacher.
The board needed to reduce its original 2019-20 budget request of $104.9 million, a $4.8 million increase over the current year, because it’s only expected to receive a combined $2.3 million in additional funding from the state and city. As it has done in past years, the school board is also expected to shrink the funding gap by “prepaying” $1 million this year for health insurance costs for next year, leaving the board with a total funding gap heading into Tuesday of about $1.5 million.
While the reductions, which still require approval from the full board, will mean a reduction in staffing, no employees will be laid off, according to Mike Grove, assistant superintendent for operations. Grove said the district was able to avoid layoffs by shifting teachers into other openings.
School Superintendent Mark Benigni said the decision to eliminate the extended day program at Sherman was tough, but said he has little choice given a lack of “appropriate” funding increases from the city during his nine years as superintendent.
“Something’s got to give,” Benigni told board members.
The elimination of Sherman’s extended day program would come a year after the board cut the extended day program at Casimir Pulaski School due to financial constraints.
The programs, first launched in Meriden at Pulaski in 2012, lengthened the school day by 100 minutes and was intended to give students a better learning experience. School officials hailed the program as a success, crediting it with improvements in standardized test scores, attendance rates and students’ perception of teachers.
The district’s other extended day program, at John Barry School, will continue under the board’s current budget.
The high school credit diploma program eliminated by the committee was offered during the day, Grove said. The district will continue to offer the program at night.
School officials expect much of the remaining $600,000 funding gap left following the cuts will be covered by an expected drop in health insurance cost projections. The board’s budget currently assumes a 10 percent increase in insurance rates for next year, however, officials expect the increase will come in around 6 to 8 percent. For every percent the rate increase goes down, the board will save $120,000, Grove said, meaning the board would save between $240,000 and $480,000 if the increase falls between 6 and 8 percent.
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