MERIDEN — A proposed 2019-20 school budget unanimously passed by the Board of Education Tuesday night would raise overall education spending by about $5 million, but school officials are hopeful some of the budget’s cost projections will ultimately go down.
The request, which will now go to the city manager and finance director, would raise the board's spending from $100.1 million to just over $105 million next year, a 4.98 percent increase. School Superintendent Mark Benigni said the increase is largely driven by collectively-bargained wage increases, as well as spikes in health insurance, transportation, utilities and outplacement tuition. The budget does not include any layoffs, according to Assistant Superintendent Mike Grove.
The board passed the budget without any discussion.
Grove said the board plans to use $1 million from this year’s budget to “prepay” health insurance costs next year, bringing the total increase down to about $4 million.
Benigni considers the budget a “work in progress” because the board is waiting to finalize several projections, including health insurance, state funding and outplacement tuition.
“There are still a bunch of unknowns and my hope is that we can continue to lower the request,” Benigni said.
Even if the board can lower the request, Benigni said the school system will need an increase in funding from the city to “continue to make gains that we've made” in various markers, including standardized test scores and graduation rates.
The city has nearly flat-funded the Board of Education over the last nine years, which has resulted in Meriden falling to 162nd out of 166 Connecticut school systems in per-student spending, according to Benigni. Some city councilors have defended the city’s education spending by noting the lack of budget increases doesn’t reflect the more than $200 million in state funding Meriden received to renovate Platt and Maloney high schools.
“...I very much recognize the tough economic situation locally, but we’re going to need a small local increase to continue providing a great education for all students,” Benigni said.
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