SOUTHINGTON — School Superintendent Timothy F. Connellan's proposed budget for the next school year represents a 3.11% increase over current spending levels.
The $101.6 million budget request would add new special education positions as school officials seek to expand the district's autism program. It also calls for a new language arts teacher, math specialist and registered nurse position. Connellan presented the budget to the school board Thursday night.
The overall request would increase spending by more than $3 million over the district's current $98.8 million spending plan. More than than $381,000 would fund the additional special education positions.
Salaries and benefits account for nearly 81% of the overall operating budget request.
Connellan said special education is “really driving” the budget increases. In the current year, the school district is expected to pay more than $5.3 million in tuition expenses to out-of-district special education providers serving 41 students, Connellan said, adding that the average cost per student is around $130,000.
The new special education positions include a full-time teacher, seven full-time behavioral therapists and a half-time speech language pathologist in a proposed expansion of the school district's program for students on the autism spectrum.
Connellan said there has been a significant increase in the number of students on the autism spectrum.
School department figures show that number has steadily increased in recent years. During the 2013-2014 school year, there were 90 students diagnosed with autism in Southington schools. By the 2018-2019 school year, the figure had risen to 123.
"Even if it cost $2 million, there’s still a significant savings in doing it in district."
-Timothy Connellan, referring to an in-district autism program
Connellan said officials haven't tallied the exact cost of the proposed in-district autism program.
“Even if it cost $2 million, there’s still a significant savings in doing it in district,” he said.
Connellan said the town has a “statutory obligation” to fund a budget that meets the school district's needs. He does not anticipate the district will see any increases in state and federal grand funding intended to offset the special education costs.
“What we’ve done I think is thoughtful and deliberate,” he said at the outset of the budget presentation Thursday night. “The district's needs are addressed in a continuous incremental fashion. We do a little bit at a time. We believe our community receives a great value for its investment in the public schools.”
"I think we need to clearly explain the numbers have increased so dramatically."
-School board member Robert Brown
Discussions on the budget request will continue next week, with public workshops scheduled for Tuesdayand Thursday.
Board of Education member Robert S. Brown said he wants to be sure the public and other elected officials are aware of the increased population of autistic students.
“I think we need to clearly explain the numbers have increased so dramatically,” he said.