Town Council reviews school spending plan in Wallingford

Town Council reviews school spending plan in Wallingford

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WALLINGFORD — The proposed Board of Education budget for 2021-22 was scrutinized at Town Council workshop last week.

Superintendent Salvatore Menzo spoke on behalf of the school district, answering questions from councilors and the public.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. proposed a total town budget for the upcoming fiscal year of $177,090,079.

Education spending would make up 60.26 percent of the budget at $106,716,916 — an increase from the current fiscal year’s budget of $931,339, or 0.88 percent.

The board had requested $107,829,228 — an increase of 1.93 percent from the current budget. Dickinson reduced the board’s request by $602,234, or 1.03 percent.

Dickinson recommended that $460,000 be authorized for bonding for the school district’s Capital Improvement Program Phase 4 request.

The 20-year bonds would cover oil tank removal or replacement at Moran Middle School and Lyman Hall High School, removal and replacement of a gas tank and pump at the service building, and design of a new elevator at Sheehan High School.

A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday’s Town Council meeting on the proposal.

Council questions

At budget workshops, the Town Council and members of the public have a chance to ask town department heads about their proposed spending plans. The school board’s workshop was Thursday.

Menzo began with an introduction and budget overview, highlighting flat enrollment rates — with a plateaued number of special education students and a slightly decreased 504 population — food services during the pandemic, increases in teachers’ and administrators’ contracts, building maintenance and federal COVID-19 funding allocated from the state.

Councilor Tom Laffin asked about using unencumbered funds for improvements to ball fields at schools as a capital project.

The unencumbered fund balance for the current fiscal year is $1,163,493, for a total of the unencumbered funds over the last two years of $2,764,346.

Menzo said that central office staff and the board made a shortlist for the strategic plan, mindful of what they presented to the Town Council and Dickinson initially.

“There are definitely other items that we would definitely put on the list to be done,” he said.

Laffin also asked about federal funds. Between the CARES Act and CRF funding, the school district garnered $2,125,979.

“It seems to be higher than we keep thinking it will be each round,” Laffin said.

Menzo said that the money is meant for new programming or recovery programming for students. It can’t be used to offset reoccurring expenditures or present levels of funding.

“It's a moving target,” Menzo said, “and it's also challenging because they're continuing to ask us to put together programming,” especially summer programs, which puts a strain on teachers who may feel burned out.

Councilor Jason Zandri asked about the future of snow days and the effect on the last day of school.

The board approved an academic calendar that would allow one traditional snow day. Every other snow day after that would be a distance learning day, if the school district gets permission from the state Board of Education.

“The (Wallingford) Board of Education doesn't have the right to put that in place at this time,” Menzo said, “because the state Board of Education has to give local boards of education that right.”

The state Board of Education also has to weigh in on whether school districts must offer voluntary distance learning for all students next year.

Process ahead

The council can make amendments to Dickinson’s budget at a motions meeting on May 6 before voting to adopt a 2021-22 budget on May 11.

If the council does not adopt an amended budget, the mayor’s proposal will go into effect automatically.

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

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