SOUTHINGTON — School board members voted in favor of a budget plan adjustment this week to reflect that the district will receive $500,000 less than hoped.
The Town Council approved a budget of $104.4 million for the school district next fiscal year, a 3.6 percent increase over the current year. That amount is $500,000 less than what the school board requested.
Jennifer Mellitt, school district business and finance director, said the adjustment took place in the teachers and paraprofessionals salary accounts.
Unfilled paraprofessional vacancies will remain unfilled in the upcoming year to help save money.
Southington’s special education program sometimes draws students from other districts. The other districts have to pay tuition to send students to Southington’s program. Mellitt said the tuition income could be used to help fund four teaching positions without using money from the budget.
“There won’t be any jobs lost by this (budget adjustment),” Mellitt said. “The schools maintained operations as they should.”
Joe Baczewski, school board vice chairman, said talking about how to adjust the budget down by $500,000 was “frustrating as hell.”
“This is an even budget. This doesn’t bring on anything new, this doesn’t bring on anything earth-shattering. No world languages, no CNA programs,” Baczewski said. “Coming out of COVID we had an opp to come out swinging, to provide, to do options for students. Man, we fell short.”
“We all agree,” said Colleen Clark, board chairwoman. She and Baczewski are Republicans.
All board members, except for Democrat Zaya Oshana Jr., voted in favor of the budget adjustment.
He said the board should have gone back to request more money from the town and couldn’t agree with the changes. The loss of more than 14 paraprofessionals would be felt by students, Oshana said, and using special education tuition to fund teaching positions was risky since a mid-year change can cause the funding to evaporate.
“I don’t know how you can cut $500,000 and not impact the district and the ability to educate our students,” he said.
Oshana said with rising benefit and salary costs, the impact to the district is greater than $500,000.
“Everyone’s saying it’s not a cut, it’s a reduce in the increase. But bottom line, it’s a cut. There’s no new teachers, there’s no new anything,” he said.Air quality study
The board also approved $70,000 for an air quality and air conditioning study for the district’s five elementary schools. Parents who have spoken at recent education board meetings have requested that the school district consider improving air quality and increasing air purification and ventilation in the classrooms. For some, it was a better way to keep kids healthy than requiring masks. The study is also designed to prepare for a replacement of air conditioning systems.
“When we do send this out to proposal...it’s not just about cooling the schools but about bringing the schools up to air quality standards across the board,” said board member Sean Carson.
Reporter Jesse Buchanan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.