SOUTHINGTON — The Board of Finance plans to have conversations earlier in the budget process with the Board of Education this year in an effort to understand the reasons for the money requested in its 2014-15 spending plan.
Finance board Vice Chairman Joseph Labieniec brought up the issue during the panel’s meeting last week, asking other members what it would take to fully approve the school board’s budget as submitted.
“It’s neither my position, nor that of the Board of Finance, that either the town budget or Board of Education budget will be approved as presented,” Labieniec said. “However, the goal for both the town budget and the Board of Education budget is to work with the town and with the superintendent of schools and Board of Education, to get to a point where we have enough understanding of what’s in the budgets. Assuming we’re on board with initiatives and philosophy, it could potentially be approved as submitted.”
John Leary, finance board chairman, said the board is hoping to “start the communication very early, even before numbers are drawn up.”
“There’s no such thing as too much information, I believe, when it comes to the proposed budget,” School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. said. “I’m pleased that people are talking about this.”
“Before we have a quantitative number, we want to have a qualitative discussion on what the Board of Education wants to move forward with,” Leary said. “On the town side, we did it. (Last budget season) the major cuts were hitting the Board of Education side because we entered into a discussion with the town prior to submitting the budget.”
Erardi’s proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year was $89.45 million, a 4.87 percent increase over the previous year’s budget. The school board approved an $85.33 million proposal, a 3.51 percent increase, with about $400,000 dedicated to starting a full-day kindergarten program. In March, the finance board approved a $1.79 million increase instead of the $2.89 million for which the school board initially asked.
This year, Erardi said he is focusing his budget using three guiding principles: the assumptions and priorities set by the school board six weeks ago; the Vision 2020 long-range planning with technology; and the state and government mandates with which the district has to comply.
Some priorities listed on the document created by the school board are to support funding for appropriate class sizes and continue funding for expansion and sustainability of technology. An assumption on the list is to maintain security, safety, and health standards.
Erardi’s budget will be complete by Monday. The first public workshop for the school board’s budget is Jan. 14.
“We’re working together earlier and in concept, to build a budget that has much higher likelihood of being approved,” Leary said. “We may not agree; there’s no guarantee.”