MERIDEN — The Board of Education got its first look at the 2019-20 education budget Tuesday night, as members of the board’s Finance Committee gave feedback to administrators on a “draft budget.”
Administrators presented a budget that reflected what it would cost to maintain all current staffing and programming to the Finance Committee. The budget would increase total spending by 5.7 percent —from $100.1 million to $105.9 million — but administrators cautioned the budget is only a starting point.
“This is not what the board is going to ask for at the end,” Assistant Superintendent for Technology and Operations Mike Grove said.
The budget included some funding requests made by principals, Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni told board members
“What’s in front of you are increases that we thought made sense, but by no means did we give principals and schools everything they asked for,” he said.
The committee did not vote on the budget Tuesday but is expected to vote on a revised budget at its next meeting on Jan 8.
The budget, Grove said, includes several “placeholder” projections that are likely to change in coming months, including health insurance, turnover from retirement, transportation costs, tuition costs for special education and magnet schools, and state aid and other grants. The board also needs to negotiate a new contract for next year with three labor unions, including unions for clerical employees, custodians, and paraprofessionals.
The biggest cost driver in the budget is an increase in total salaries of $2.4 million, which reflects wage increases included in previously-approved labor union contracts.
The second biggest cost driver is a $2.2 million increase in health insurance costs. Grove expects the current health insurance cost projection – $13.6 million – will come down in part because the board traditionally uses about $1 million in money leftover at the end of each fiscal year to “prepay” for health insurance for the following year.
Other notable cost drivers include a $389,000 increase in transportation costs, a $300,000 increase in tuition for special education and magnet schools, and a $226,000 increase in utilities.
John Lineen, chairman of the board’s Finance Committee, told administrators the 5.7 percent budget increase, which Grove said is expected to drop to 4.7 percent with the health insurance prepayment, isn’t feasible and must be brought down “much, much lower.”
“That’s a lot for the city to chew on. It’s not going to happen,” Lineen said of the increase, adding cutting programs may be necessary.
“Obviously, we’re not prepared tonight to make recommendations for cuts in programs and staff, but that probably (will happen) in the future at some point,” Lineen said.
If the committee approves a budget on Jan. 8, the full board would then vote on it at its Jan. 15 meeting. The budget would then get sent to the city manager, who traditionally releases a city budget recommendation sometime in February, Grove said. School officials will present the school budget to the City Council in April and the council traditionally passes a budget in May.
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