The Board of Education has approved a nearly $1 million increase in school funding, declining to modify the $39.2 million budget requested by Superintendent Steven LePage.
The operational budget, which constitutes a 2.61 percent increase in spending, now goes to the Town Council, which can modify the budget to increase or decrease funding. The final budget will go before voters on April 28.
The BOE voted 6-2 in favor of the superintendent’s budget.
Republican Nicole Palmieri joined council Democrats in supporting the proposal.
Republicans Deborah Hardy and Laurie Peterson voted in opposition.
Democrat Rebecca Martinez was not present for the vote.
Palmieri said she went through the superintendent’s budget request line-by-line, multiple times. “If I thought there was any places that could be reduced, I would have spoken up and I would have had ideas on how to do that,” she said. “I think it’s irresponsible to cut a budget with no ideas on how to do so. So I am supporting this budget and I hope that the Town Council realizes that you don’t have to cut it just to cut it.”
Said BOE member Foster White, a Democrat: “If we were to reduce anything there would definitely mean the reduction of staff, which would have a very negative impact either on security or learning capabilities and teaching to the students.”
The increase in the school budget is driven almost entirely by salary and benefit hikes the district is contractually obligated to provide staff, which add up to $972,354 before retirements are taken into account.
LePage noted that the majority of the budget, nearly 85 percent, pays for the salaries and benefits of district employees. “The biggest driver of the school budget, in any district, is really people,” he said. “It’s a people business, with putting the right people in the right positions to do the best they can for children.”
Personnel-wise, the budget would reinstate an English position at the Middle School of Plainville, while the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment position held by Rosa Pérez, who is retiring this year, would be split to create a new specialist for equity, climate and English language learners.
The budget does not call for replacing a technician in the Technology Department.
Outside of the operational budget, the school board is seeking nearly $700,000 in capital funding for facility and technology upgrades and maintenance, including the annual Chromebook replacement cycle and the construction of a secure entrance at Plainville High School. Approved by the board on Dec. 16, that plan also requires the approval of the Town Council.