CHESHIRE — The Board of Education passed a motion to approve Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan’s 2023-24 budget request, but not before reducing the ask by over half a million dollars.
The request, which must still be approved by the Town Manager and, ultimately, the Town Council, now stands at $85,358,121, a 5.82% increase over last fiscal year. Solan’s original recommendation had been for a 6.46% increase over the current fiscal year’s budget.
During the BOE’s review, administrators, including Solan, Chief Operating Officer Vincent Masciana, and Director of Pupil Personnel Services Robin-Anne Carey, made a case that medical benefit costs, increasing enrollments, energy and fuel costs, and unfunded mandates constituted most of the impetus for the increase. After hearing detailed justifications for the initial 6.46% budget increase request over a series of five sessions, Finance Committee Chair Adam Grippo introduced a motion to amend the request.
In his comments, which echoed those of board member Faith Ham and Chair Tony Perugini, Grippo was mindful of the burden on Cheshire taxpayers. Board member Anne Harrigan was the lone vote against approving the amended budget request.
“My rationale in making the original motion was to preserve all contractual increases and preserve the additional positions asked (for) in the budget, as well as to keep our class sizes at 18.1 or thereabouts, and preserve our special education integrity,” explained Grippo. “The majority of the decrease in increase would come from support services,” except for budgeted increases in fuel and electricity.
“I don’t think the $514,000 (reduction) is irresponsible. I think it certainly challenges the Superintendent a bit, but I also don’t think that’s going to be the end of it,” Perugini remarked.
Harrigan criticized Grippo’s “audacity,” saying, “The reasons that our budget is increasing over last year are not all bad. We are growing as a community, which means we have higher student enrolment coming in. We’ve already seen that the past couple of years.”
“We need to think in the way that we need to support population that’s coming into our schools,” Harrigan added.
Board member Samantha Rosenberg agreed with Harrigan, saying, “Growth is happening. We also don’t want to lose sight (of the fact) that with growth comes the diversity, with the diversity comes need. We don’t know the demographics of our growth and therefore we do have to prepare in advance. We’re looking at numbers — I really don’t want us to just look at the numbers. Those numbers come with faces and needs as well.”
Board member Andrew Martelli pointed out that “we’re trying to foreshadow what the budget’s going to look like from July 1st to the next year.”
Perugini elaborated on that, adding, “When I look at budgets, it’s looking out at least three years — the best that I can (to predict) what’s coming, what we need to plan for. And when I do look out that far, I think we’ll be making continued investments of this size or maybe greater in the next couple years.”
“We are growing, and we want to continue offering a quality education and a quality experience,” added Perugini.
“I understand the Board of Education’s desire to limit taxpayer impact to the greatest extent possible and their subsequent decision to cut my budget increase to 5.82%,” said Solan. “I know they appreciate that we currently spend (approximately) $1,000 per student less than our peer districts, which obviously reflects the incredible efficiency with which we operate. I look forward to April when we meet with the Town Council to finalize our budget for next year.”