MERIDEN — The Board of Education is expected to vote next week on a 2019-20 school budget that would raise overall education spending by about $5 million.
The board’s Finance Committee unanimously voted Tuesday night to recommend the budget, which would increase the board’s annual spending from $100.1 million to just over $105 million next year, a 4.98 percent increase. School officials noted the board plans to use $1 million from this year’s budget to “prepay” health insurance costs next year, bringing the total increase down to about $4 million.
Assistant Superintendent for Schools Mike Grove told board members the overall increase mostly stems from items that are “out of our control,” such as utility increases and contractually-obligated wage increases. Salaries for certified staff, which would increase by $2.3 million under the proposed budget, is the biggest cost-driver, along with health insurance.
Committee chairman John Lineen said he isn’t optimistic the city will increase the board’s budget by $4 million given that the board has been virtually flat-funded by the city for the last nine years.
“Good luck,” Lineen told administrators about the requested $4 million funding increase. “..After nine years of zero, I don't think it's going to happen.”
While the board is required to send the city manager a budget request, many of the items in the budget, like insurance costs and special education tuition, are just estimates for now and will be adjusted as the board gets more information, Grove said. The full school board is expected to vote on the budget at its Jan 15 meeting.
Without additional city or state funding, it’s likely the board will need to layoff staff, Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni told board members. The board cut about 24 positions last year.
Benigni said the Meriden school system is one of the lowest funded in the state but said he’ s hopeful the city “will recognize there needs to be additional city support for the education system.”
“We now are funded 162nd out of 166 school systems in the state, you can’t fund much worse than that,” Benigni said about Meriden’s per-student spending. “After nine years of basically no new funding, there’s going to need to be some new funding, or the system will eventually collapse.”
The budget proposal comes about six months after residents voted in July to reject the City Council’s adopted budget in a referendum because they felt spending and taxes were too high.