Southington schools to host budget forum Thursday

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SOUTHINGTON — Superintendent Steven Madancy is hosting an open public forum on the upcoming 2023-24 budget at the Kennedy Middle School Media Center Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m. 

The purpose of the meeting is to inform parents of the current status of the budgeting process and break down the contents of each line item so administrators can convey the decisions being made, in the context of the constraints of the current economic climate. Officials encourage parents to attend, not only to understand how the current budget impacts the future of Southington schools, but also to ask questions and provide input that will inform the Board of Education’s considerations going forward. 

“There are some unique challenges associated with our proposed budget. And I think, then, given the current state of the economy, the town finds itself in a difficult situation. And understanding that, it's a difficult year for people in general relative to what they're paying for fuel and groceries and utility costs and everything else. And so it's trying to work together to find solutions and balance to a complicated budget season,” Madancy said, speaking to the purpose of the forum. “I think my goal in the forum is to educate parents about the federal, state, and local factors that go into a budget.”

The Board of Education was scheduled to hold a special meeting on Wednesday to rescind the $110 million budget approved on Jan. 26. The board aims to raise the budget to over $111 million, a $795,228 difference. 

This is to correct an error made during the budgeting process, where the board included one-time government funds as part of the total in order to bring it down to $110 million — from the initial $112 million in Madancy’s original proposed budget. As the funds are considered outside of the district’s normal funding they couldn’t be included on the budget sheet.

The board is still seeking to use the non-lapsing funds to help offset costs but will need additional approval from the Board of Finance to do so. 

Democratic members of the board are upset regarding the decision to use the non-lapsing funds as part of the budget, as they feel it puts the district in a precarious position just to maintain level services.

The Republican majority held a caucus ahead of the last budget meeting in January, where they decided to make use of the lapsing funds without informing the Democrat members prior to the meeting, saying there was no time to debate the budget further as it was due to the Board of Finance by Feb. 1st. That they had to go back and re-approve, to the Democratic members, shows that they had more time to discuss the changes than was let on — and stands as a sign that the majority party wanted to get the agenda through without adequate public debate. 

“I was told we couldn't do that, because we didn't have enough time. We had to be done by Feb. 1. Well … it's Feb. 8, we had plenty of time to have another budget workshop, where we could have gone in and done line by line through the budget,” said board Democrat Zaya Oshana. “There still may have been disagreements, at least there could have been an opportunity for some common ground. But we were told that there was not enough time. Well, Lord knows there was enough time because we're having a meeting to rescind a budget that was passed, and then fix it. Because it was done incorrectly. That's problematic.”

Board of Education Chair Colleen Clark noted that it hasn’t been an easy process to come up with this particular budget, given inflation and insurance increases, and that they had to get the money from somewhere. The non-lapsing funds were the best option the district had for not going further over budget, already looking at a 6% increase over this year.

Despite disagreements over the nature of the funding, both parties on the board agree that an open forum is a good idea for adding additional transparency to the process and a critical step in helping the community understand the decision-making process behind the crafting of the budget. 

“It's not an easy process, as far as where the funding comes from, who gets what, how and why. But basically, it's just an informational session to advise parents of where their tax dollars are going,” Clark said, “ So all those things that go into it make for better-educated parents. And, they understand what is needed to properly run a school system. So that's the purpose of it. Somebody had said, well, ‘is it going to pit the schools against the seniors or something like that?’ No, it's not. What it is, is trying to explain how this whole process works.”

“We should be out there communicating to the community, what this budget contains, why it is where it is how we got here,” Oshana said. 

Input from the forum will be taken into consideration and presented to the Board of Finance when they look to approve the budget, which will take place in May.


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