By Jesse Buchanan
SOUTHINGTON — Education officials presented what they described as a “level services” budget to the Board of Finance Thursday, saying the requested 2.77 percent increase in the 2018-19 spending plan is necessary to prevent cutting teachers, programs and other services.
Finance board chairman John Leary said his group was still looking for “substantive” cuts to make up a $2 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year budget.
The finance board has a $3 million contingency fund, which offsets some of the roughly $5 million the town lost in state aid this fiscal year.
“It is a problem we have to solve at a macro level and that’s before we get to the (2018-19 budget,” Leary said.
School officials argued the town gets value for its education spending, citing state data that ranked the town as 154 out of 166 districts in per pupil spending.
“There are only twelve districts that spend less than us,” said school superintendent Tim Connellan. “I think we get good value for our dollar.”
The school board approved a $96,816,329 budget request in a 7 to 1 vote last month after cutting $475,000 from Connellan’s spending proposal.
After Thursday’s presentation, Leary said the finance board would have further questions in the coming weeks. The finance board recommends a school and town budget to the Town Council for final approval.
School officials based their increase percent calculations on the budget total approved last year. Not all of the anticipated money has been realized due to changes in state funding.
Finance board member Tony Morrison asked if the school board would accept using a different number than last year’s approved total.
“Would you be okay with asking for an increase based on the amount of money you received this year rather than the $94.2 million (approved last year)?” Morrison asked.
Brian Goralski, education board chairman, told Morrison no.
“We’re budgeting off of what we anticipated. That was our baseline,” said Sherri DiNello, school business and finance director.
Connellan presented an array of cuts to school services that would result from lower increases to the requested budget. Goralski said it wasn’t an attempt to “rally the troops” by presenting programs on the chopping block but giving the town facts to make a decision on education spending.
“We’ve never before shown the public what reductions look like,” he said.