PLAINVILLE — The Town Council could vote as soon as Monday on how much it will reduce the Board of Education’s budget after it hears from residents in a public hearing.
Voters narrowly rejected the $38.3 million spending plan passed by the Town Council in a 384-372 vote on April 30, with only 16 “no” votes calling the district’s spending too low. The $23.5 million municipal budget passed 409-354.
Should the council not make a decision on the budget Monday, a second meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday. The town’s charter dictates that the second town vote on the budget will be on May 14.
“I will be notifying parents that the Town Council has alerted me to the possibility of substantial cuts,” said Superintendent of Schools Maureen Brummett, adding that she was told a reduction between $100,000 to $200,000 was being considered.
The school board met Thursday to discuss where the cuts could come from, but Brummett said the budget has already been reduced to the necessities through Board of Education and Town Council trimming before it went out to the voters.
“We certainly already have sliced and diced the budget down to the bare bones,” she said.
Employee salaries accounted for the largest portion of the original Board of Education budget increase at nearly $900,000. Brummett said the district opted to extend the teachers’ existing contract into a fourth year, trading a higher than normal compensation increase for savings in legal fees and ensuring that all parties agree to join the state run insurance plan along with the town.
The cost of that new plan also represents a nearly $300,000 increased cost to the school system.
The $61.9 million budget would have raised the mill rate by 0.88 mills to 34.72 mills, meaning a $121 tax increase for the average home assessed at $137,227. The Board of Education budget would have risen just over $1 million. Municipal spending under the adopted portion of the budget will be going up $819,000.
Town Council feels compelled to make cuts
Chairwoman Katherine Pugliese said the council is obligated to abide by the will of the voters and reduce the proposed education budget. State statue dictates that educational spending cannot be cut lower than last year, however.
“The overwhelming majority said it was too high, so I believe in all good consciousness … that we need to adjust the budget downwards for the Board of Education,” she said.
In public hearings leading up to the vote residents expressed concerns that the council could avoid being forced into enacting substantive cuts by passing a token cut, which Pugliese said she would reject.
“That would be completely disingenuous if we did that … absolutely not and I will be vocally against any kind of adjustment that is disingenuous,” she said. “Looking at all the numbers, more people voted this year than last year for the budget. More people said ‘no’ than last year, so I believe people are sending a message.”
Board of Education Chairwoman Deb Hardy said the budget’s failure came as a surprise. No budget has failed in town since the 2012 charter change, but she can see how voters could be worried about rising spending when the state is considering raising taxes on residents.
“I didn't think that our budget would not pass, but I think with the uncertainty with our state that might have a lot to do with it,” she said. “We have a lot of elderly people in our town and I'm sure they’re wondering what's going to happen with everything that's being brought forward by Hartford.”