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New programs, initiatives removed from Wallingford school budget; over $500k shortfall still remains

WALLINGFORD — Even by removing new initiatives, such as an expanding the preschool program, and having a variety of savings, the Board of Education still has to reduce the 2014-15 budget by over $500,000. The board agreed Thursday night at a special operations committee meeting to not further reduce the budget.

Instead the board will appear before the Town Council next week with the shortfall in its budget and present the facts and explain the situation, said Board of Education Chairwoman Roxane McKay.

The board voted earlier this year to send Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. a budget that increases spending by 4.36 percent, or $3.97 million, and totaled $95.23 million. The plan the mayor sent to the Town Council this week calls for a total education budget of $93.28 million, a 2.23 percent increase from the current year.

Dickinson also proposed giving the board $350,000 in Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority funds to use for educational capital projects.

To sustain current services in the school system, education officials say the board needs $94.36 million, or a 3.41 percent increase in its budget.

“Let’s rock the boat by saying we have come up with these legit savings, but after that, we’re at a loss,” McKay said.

During Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo presented a three-page document detailing every strategic plan item and maintenance item removed from the 2014-15 budget.

Those items include expanding the preschool program in the school system, as well as four full-time positions the board was hoping to add next year.

By removing those items from the budget, it reduces the 2014-15 budget to a total of $94,258,005. In addition, Menzo said $346,106 was saved from insurance reductions and another $64,895 was saved because of retirements. He added that there is a savings from cutting the contingency fund by $63,899.

Despite this, the board would still have to reduce the budget by $515,550 to meet the mayor’s proposal, he said.

McKay plans on giving the councilors the same document to outline what is being taken out of the budget. She told board members during the meeting that the document was “powerful.”

Board members and administrators discussed for an hour and a half how they could possibly reduce the budget any further. Menzo, as well as the board members, emphasized they wanted to stay away from laying off any teachers in the school system.

During the meeting, Board of Education Vice Chairman Joe Marrone questioned why the board has to be “creative” with reducing the budget. If they were able to reduce the budget by another $515,550, Marrone argued that the Town Council wouldn’t fully understand the situation the Board of Education is in.

McKay agreed, adding that going to the council and saying there’s still a deficit with the budget doesn’t prove anything, but that she was presenting the facts and “no one could say, ‘I didn’t know.’ ”

“It’s important for the Town Council to understand ... there is really $1 million in capital expenditures represented in this budget,” McKay said. “I would say about 99 percent of that is mandated.”

Some of those mandates include necessary maintenance to ensure the schools are handicapped-accessible. If they aren’t, Menzo said, it would result in “significant” fines for the town.

According to McKay, Dickinson is planning on tapping into the town’s reserve funds to purchase trucks for the Public Works Department, as well as safety items for the Police Department. It has to be approved by the council, McKay said, but she told board members she wants to get clarification.

“It’s uncharacteristic,” she said of going into the reserve funds. “... If it’s true, I want to see if we can have a seat the table. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Most of Thursday’s discussion focused on the board members’ disappointment with Dickinson’s proposal. Some board members believe his plan moves the school system in the wrong direction.

Board member Michael Votto said the removal of the early education recommendation “really upset” him because it would be placed on hold for at least another year.

Board member Jay Cei questioned how Dickinson arrived at his proposal. Dickinson has been dealing with budgets for so long, Cei said, “there has to be some methodology to it.”

“If there’s a process — a formula — and we can understand the formula, we could put together a plan based on it,” Cei said.

The board will meet with the Town Council on Wednesday, April 9, for a budget meeting. In addition to presenting the facts and explaining the situation, McKay said she’s interested in hearing what the councilors will ask.

“There’s no presentation — everything has been cut,” she said. “... There’s nothing to really discuss.” (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ

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