The next budget could include a sharp increase for capital improvement projects as town and school officials seek to tackle needs that have been deferred for years.
“It’s fairly clear that the needs are expensive … and they need to be addressed,” said Town Manager Robert Lee. His office is currently evaluating a five-year capital plan approved Dec. 10 by the Board of Education and the Finance Department continues working on the municipal plan.
The school board is seeking to more than double spending on capital improvement, going from $224,900 this year to $566,935. The improvement plan addresses both technology and facilities, including replacement of Chromebooks, the expansion of the town’s MakerSpace program into the elementary schools, and security upgrades across the five schools.
The current budget’s allocation is lower than in past years because of mid-year cuts after a reduction in the Education Cost Sharing grant from the state. Nothing was spent on upgrades or maintenance of facilities, while around $230,000 was spent on technology.
School officials are also trying to address some of their needs in the next few years due to expectations that the Middle School of Plainville will need significant renovations by 2023. That project alone is projected to cost $5.6 million.
“All of these things are expensive and if you don’t look at what things could need replacement or upgrading you could have a year where you need a substantial fiscal increase,” said Superintendent of Schools Maureen Brummett.
Board of Education Chairwoman Deborah Hardy said it’s important to continue the district’s expansion of its STEAM program, or science, technology, engineering, arts and math. The proposed plan includes $24,000 to begin introducing MakerSpace and STEAM technology into the elementary schools with new iPads, screen-free programming instruction, robotics kits and virtual reality sets.
"I think we're doing a good job of getting there, from what I hear from other people that I know at different schools,” Hardy said. “They are amazed at what we really can do and what we have been doing with such a small town.”
Lee said the Town Council will need to figure out how to balance the costs of projects sought by municipal and education officials, but he doesn’t think Plainville can continue to underfund its capital improvement budget and defer some of the projects and maintenance for much longer.
The council has final say on the bottom line total for the school board’s overall budget, although the board can set priorities on how to spend those funds. Council Chairwoman Katherine Pugliese said there’s still a lot of uncertainty regarding what the state budget will look like, complicating the council’s vote.
She said she’ll watch closely for Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget proposal, currently expected in early February, to see funding for ECS and other forms of local aid. The timing means Lamont’s budget would come out around the same time the school board is formalizing its own request.
“It’s very hard right now to figure out what’s going to happen,” Pugliese said.
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