PLAINVILLE — The Board of Education indicated support for a budget proposal from Superintendent of Schools Steven LePage which includes a nearly $1 million increase in school spending.
Board member Rebecca Martinez described the budget as “very conservative, very responsible” during the board’s final workshop Monday.
"I would support this budget as is and just hope we're not cutting it a little bit too close," she said.
The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget, which constitutes a 2.6 percent increase in school funding, on Feb. 10, after which it will be considered by the Town Council in March and will go before voters during the all day budget vote on April 28.
Superintendent Steven LePage said the budget is nearly entirely driven by increases to wages and benefits that the district is contractually obligated to provide. Not including retirements between the end of the current fiscal year, those contractual increases would add up to $972,354, compared to the overall budget increase of $998,572.
Some positions are expected to shift in the budget, including not replacing a technician in the Technology Department and reinstating an English position at the Middle School of Plainville, cut in previous years. The director of curriculum, instruction and assessment position held by Rosa Pérez, who is retiring this year, is also being split to create a new specialist for equity, climate and English language learners.
Board members did point to some unfunded items that they felt were risky in the budget, particularly allocating $200,000 less than the full expense for paraprofessionals in the belief that having those positions filled will reduce expensive student outplacement, which was the case in the current year.
There is also no contingency funding built into the outlays for the town’s miscellaneous insurance plans, which LePage said could mean program reductions or a budget freeze should the cost of those plans increase.
"I'm comfortable with the levels of risks that we've talked about. It doesn't give a lot of room for anything to be reduced, because we're coming in with a lean budget," he said.
Board member Foster White said those risks show not only how little room there is in the budget for adverse events during the year, but for any cuts that the budget may face throughout the rest of the process.
"It does point to the fact that this is I think one of the most bare bone budgets I have seen in the seven years I've been around here," he said.
Board member Laurie Peterson disagreed, saying that she believes the overall budget proposal is too high.
"I'm just going to stick with it's just too high,” she said after being pressed by other board members for specifics. “I know we can do better.”
LePage said his request was the result of going over every funding request from scratch and looking for line items that could be reallocated or eliminated. The result meets his goal of creating a budget that supports a school district he can be proud of, he said.
"I know it's my first budget as superintendent, but I really feel like we have taken great care to make sure we meet the needs of our kids, but also being respectful of the taxpayer's wishes not to have their taxes go up too much," he said.