CHESHIRE — Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan recently presented his 2022-2023 budget proposal to the Board of Education.
Solan is requesting $81,114,420 — more than a $4 million, or 5.34%, increase to the current budget of $77,001,052. This year’s proposal aims to replenish the medical benefits fund, hire more teachers and address Cheshire’s impending enrollment issue.
“We don’t just provide instruction to our 4,200 students, but we do so much more, and are responsible for so much more than that,” Solan began during the Thursday school board meeting. “This includes mental health, nutrition, medical care, health services, athletics, music and arts, and transportation.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the school district is the increase in enrollment.
“Our student enrollment is climbing … this is a critical factor in our current work, and certainly the budget moving forward,” he said. “Our 2021-2022 enrollment is actually 3% higher than what we expected, and given the developments in town it is likely that 2022-2023 will also exceed projections. The same 3% would mean an additional 63 K to sixth grade students.”
“People don’t move here for the night life,” Solan said. “When we are building these large homes that are multi-bedroom homes, we can anticipate that’s certainly going to impact our enrollment. We are also dramatically outpacing birth rate projections.”
Solan added that the current enrollment already exceeds the projected enrollment for this year, with nearly 4,210 students, not including Open Choice students.
Another big challenge to the education budget this year is the medical benefits reserve fund, which will account for $2,235,633 of the requested budget.
“As you’ll recall, last year the Town Council reduced our operating budget by $1.5 million, and they infused $1.5 million of federal money into (our medical reserve fund) to stabilize tax growth,” he said. “Our budget as it is being presented tonight infuses another $1.5 million and covers future claim projections. I want it to be clear that that money does not do anything to the reserve. If we matched exactly as we had budgeted, at the end of next year our reserve would still be at $1.73 million. The budget here does nothing to bolster that reserve.”
Solan added that the budgetary process is fluid, and that there are many months between now and when the Town Council finalizes the overall spending plan.
Solan also noted that nearly 80% of this year’s budget will go to employee salaries and benefits, which comes out to roughly $65,443,170.
“This is where the money gets spent in the school system,” he told the audience.
Teachers in the Cheshire School District will be getting a 1.23% general wage increase, and Solan has plans to hire five new teachers this year; one teacher at Chapman, Highland and Norton Elementary Schools, respectively, a new birth-to-three teacher, and an additional coordinator/evaluator for the Cheshire High School transition program that helps students between the ages of 14 and 22.
“The recommended elementary staffing increase is due to the significant increase in elementary student population (actual and projected) for this school year,” he said. “The new transition coordinator position is due to a change in the interpretation of the law, which extends special education services from the age of 21 to 22, essentially increasing our enrollment by 33% in that program.”
The Board of Education will review Solan’s proposal over the next several weeks.