School budget review continues in Wallingford

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WALLINGFORD — The Board of Education held its third budget meeting on Monday night, going into detail as to why the sustained budget request is a proposed 5.91% increase from the current budget.

Items such as teacher salaries, benefits, transportation and new curriculum have price increases, making it so the overall sustained services budget has gone from just under $109.9 million for the current year to just under $116.4 million for the upcoming school year. 

“There are so many things that have gone up so much that these are the uncontrollable, non-negotiables,” said Superintendent Danielle Bellizzi. “There’s a lot of this that I can’t go back and even look at and say, ‘Well, are these things, can we go back and look at these different object codes?’ And I think that’s the hard part.” 

Board of Education Chairperson Tammy Raccio said she is comfortable with the budget increase as she pointed out that uncontrollable costs are what created the sustained services budget increase. 

“I’m comfortable with the 5.91, I’m not saying everyone has to be, but I can’t find anything to cut in those, those are pretty fixed to me,” Raccio said. 

Dominic Barone, business manager for Wallingford Public Schools, did say that the district received the oil bid, and it is less than expected. 

“We did get a little bit of savings there, so that helped a little bit,” Barone said. 

“We’re monitoring the utilities,” he added. “I’m looking forward to the gas bills for January to see if we can work that number too. It’s just a tough time to be doing our budget because some things change in January.” 

Barone also pointed out that the budget for textbooks includes the new Right to Read program, which the district budgets $300,000 for. This legislation requires districts across the state to implement state-mandated reading programs for grades kindergarten through third. 

The typical budget for textbooks is $24,302, but due to the district planning for the new reading program, the district has requested $421,489 in this category.

“That’s not a usual increase,” Barone said. 

Maureen Reed, board member, shared that other districts are experiencing a budget increase as well for the upcoming school year.

“They are asking for the same type of percent, if not higher, so we’re all kind of in the same boat with inflation and everything going on,” Reed said. 

Strategic Plan 

Central office administrators also presented the remainder of the overall strategic plan, which included food services, special education and technology.

Aimee Turner, assistant superintendent for special education, said the department is planning for an alternative school to service high school students who are displaying behaviors such as aggression and social mal-adjustment. This is something planned for possibly the 2024-25 school year. 

The high schools have already implemented a program called Alternative Route to Success (A.R.T.S), which is for students who have emotional struggles, such as having depression and anxiety.

“What we’re seeing right now is there’s two totally different populations of students and those students who have more behavioral issues are not well serviced in the A.R.T.S program because we didn’t create it for a student with that profile, we created it more for the student who is struggling emotionally,” Turner said. 

This program will be off-site and Turner said right now, she suspects around 10-15 students would be a part of the program. Right now, she said they are looking for a location and solidifying a curriculum for the program. 

Along with maintaining tablets and computer maintenance, Karen Veilleux, director of the information technology department, said some intercom systems in the district need to be updated. 

“They seem to be vintage in our district, so in most cases, as in every district, they’re put in when the buildings were built so it’s difficult to find parts and we have one builder that services them. Their rate almost doubled from last year because we are in a five year contract (which) went out to bid,” Veilleux said. “It’s very costly to maintain. We’re trying to start to upgrade them so we can at least have some spare parts for some of the other schools.” 

Veilleux said sometimes the intercoms are too loud or too quiet and they are hard to tweak. 

“There have been times last year when it was down for multiple days,” Veilleux said. 

In those situations, Bellizzi said administrators utilize other modes of communication with staff members.

“Via the walkie talkies that they have or other means to make sure that everyone hears the announcements and is very clear if there is an emergency or anything that needs to be done,” Bellizzi said. 

The strategic plan budget for the 2023-24 school year is $327,668, a 0.3 percent increase from the current year. This budget includes prioritized items, including adding a set of instructional coaches for the elementary schools, hiring an assistant to building and grounds to assist Marc Deptula, supervisor of building and grounds, with maintaining the school grounds and updating cyber security software. 

Next steps

The Board of Education will have another budget meeting on Wednesday via Google Meet at 6 p.m. The public can view this meeting on YouTube, along with attending on Google Meet at the beginning for public comment. 

At this meeting, Bellizzi will list the capital items that the district is looking to prioritize for bonding, along with strategic plan items to see if the board members have others they would like to prioritize. 

“There are a lot of items there that are extremely important as well,” Bellizzi said. “We certainly can go back and put together that top 10 if you would like and at least go from there.”

jsimms@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @jessica_simms99


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