Southington BOE slims budget, ponders future of per-pupil spending

reporter photo

SOUTHINGTON — School administrators met Thursday night to further slim the special education portion of the superintendent’s proposed budget for next year

Several hundred thousand dollars were shaved off, bringing the requested increase in overall spending to 7.31%. This marks a marginal decrease over Superintendent Steven Madancy’s original proposal before the board, which asked for a 7.64% increase over the current year’s budget. 

The total proposed budget comes out to just over $110 million, which is around $7 million over the current spending.

As Madancy outlined in his presentation before the board, the reason for the increase has been rising operational and staffing costs, an issue that has faced other districts across the country. Though he noted the decrease following the workshop was small, it still remained meaningful to have decreased it by any amount. 

“[It’s] a small adjustment, but certainly every penny counts. I mean, it was a few $100,000, so when you're talking about a $100 million plus budget, even several $100,000 doesn't move the needle a ton. That's why it only went from seven-six to seven-three, but every penny counts right now,” Madancy said. 

The decrease came from an adjustment in the outplacement costs for the district, which is moving special needs students out of the district in order to receive care that Southington schools can’t provide. 

Though the cost of special needs services in Southington schools have increased in the budget, Madancy outlined that it was worth the investment as the outplacement costs would severely increase costs for those students, and that it was a worthy cause to keep special education students in the district. 

Higher insurance rates were also a major factor in the elevated cost, but those services are seen as a necessity. All other projects seen as extraneous have been eliminated from the budget. 

“If you go into a grocery store, what you're paying now for food is more expensive than what you paid last year,” said Board of Education Chair Colleen Clark. “Inflation is upon us. And because of that, the schools have expenses as well, and the costs for those expenses have gone up. And if you look at the budget, it says there's no new personnel. There's no new projects. What we have we're trying to keep, but because of certain factors beyond our control, such as the insurance uptick that we had to the tune of $3 million dollars, [and] transportation costs that have increased significantly.

“Those are the things that have gone up, we have to pay them. There's no fat in this budget,” Clark added.

Per-pupil spending

Madancy raised the issue at the last board meeting of Southington schools having lower per-pupil spending than all comparable districts in the state for the past several years.

Yet Southington’s Grand List, the total of all taxable property in the town, is significantly higher than all the other towns.

He raised the question of whether the district had the ability to increase its investment in the students in the coming years.

That question, according to Clark, is one that only the Town Council or the Board of Finance can answer. 

“We ask for a certain amount of money, but it's up to the Town Council and the Board of Finance,” Clark said.

“There was a fairly wide discrepancy between our ability to pay, our poverty rate, and our per-pupil expenditure,” Madancy added. “So I'll let people decide what that means for themselves. But those are the numbers.”

Despite the lower numbers, members of the board are confident in the quality of the children’s education, focusing on smaller class sizes that allow children to get more individual attention from the teacher, something that they feel is preferable to larger and more impersonal classes. 

“Our teachers and staff do a great job with the money that we have,” said Clark. “We try very hard to keep our numbers low in the classes because, quite honestly, the most important person is the teacher in front of the students.”

Madancy said he’s planning to host a community forum in the coming weeks to speak openly to parents and members of the public about the contents of the budget.

Though a firm date has yet to be set, he encourages the community to attend and engage in the decision-making process, as attendance has been limited over the past several years. 

“I think this year calls for active participation, just so that everyone understands the difficult decisions that everyone faces,” Madancy said. “Not only the Board of Education, relative to the funding, but also the other elected officials that also have a responsibility to the taxpayers.”


More From This Section