WALLINGFORD — The Board of Education approved a budget proposal for next fiscal year, but at a lower amount than anticipated.
By a 5 to 4 vote along party lines Monday night, the board approved a budget for 2021-22 in the amount of $107,829,228, or an increase of 1.93 percent from the current year.
The sustained services budget request is $106,836,436, or a 0.99 percent increase. The strategic plan budget request is $992,792, a 0.94 percent increase.
The school budget proposal now passes to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., who creates a proposed overall municipal budget for the upcoming fiscal year and releases it by April 1.
The budget approved Monday is nearly $208,000 lower than the amount proposed by School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo.
Menzo’s original budget came in at $108,037,171, an increase of 2.13 percent, which was approved by the school board’s operations committee Feb. 3.
On Feb. 10 at a special operations committee meeting, the seven board members who attended voted to maintain the $108 million request after Dominic Barone, the school district’s business manager, conducted an analysis of accounts and found $207,943 in the sustained services budget that could be reduced from the total budget request.
Menzo said on Feb. 10 that if the board maintained a 2.13 percent budget increase instead of reducing the increase to 1.93 percent, the extra money could be used to fund non-recurring expenses in the strategic plan items, such as maintenance projects and technology purchases.
The approved budget does include 12 strategic plan priorities that were approved by the board Feb. 3.
The 12 priorities — which total $992,792 — include $295,500 for energy efficiency items for all elementary schools, $162,034 for middle school instructional coaches, $150,000 toward computer replacement, $100,000 to renovate the ball fields at Dag Hammarskjold Middle School, $64,000 to hire a preschool teacher, $50,000 to renovate the softball field at Moran Middle School, $50,000 to update teacher laptops, $31,200 to hire a communication specialist, $26,000 to purchase an IT vehicle, $24,986 for the ag science coordinator’s salary, $20,000 for design work on a Lyman Hall High School softball field renovation and $19,072 for part-time Adult Education instruction.
On Monday night, the board discussed where they stood on a budget with a 2.13 percent increase or a 1.93 percent increase.
Board member Eric Corso said that with the amount of money in the board’s 2 percent account — which is made up of unspent funds — she wasn’t comfortable with asking for additional money “basically for additional strategic priorities when our initial request was for the first 12, which – I voted no on that anyway.”
The Board of Education had $2.62 million total in unspent funds for fiscal year 2019-20, according to a recently released town audit, with $1 million of that amount attributed primarily to savings in school bus transportation, which was greatly reduced from March 2020 onward due to COVID-19.
That $1 million was used to help balance the current fiscal year’s municipal budget. The remaining balance went either toward encumbrances or appropriations-in-force, which the BOE calls the 2 percent account.
Board member Kathy Castelli said that over the past several years, there’s been a reduction in the board’s contingency fund due to the 2 percent account. The 2 percent account funds are used to support special education.
“I think we’ve been very cognizant,” Castelli said, “and very – we’ve done our due diligence in being respectful to our taxpayers, and to support making sure we have money to support our needs going forward.”
Board member Mike Votto said that Dickinson usually makes cuts to the school budget, historically approving a spending increase lower than the one requested by the Board of Education.
“I’d rather see a 2.13 percent (budget) rather than a 1.93 percent (budget) get cut,” Votto said, “because the smaller the amount we hand in, the smaller amount we’re going to get back.”
The Town Council can make amendments to Dickinson's budget before voting to adopt a budget. If the council does not adopt an amended budget, the mayor's proposal will go into effect automatically.
The Board of Education currently makes up two-thirds of Wallingford’s entire municipal budget.