Wallingford schools seek 2.93% budget hike for next year

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WALLINGFORD — Declining enrollment, increases in fuel costs and the potential move of an entire educational facility are impacting the planning of next year’s school budget.

The nearly $110 million proposed budget, presented at a Board of Education meeting Wednesday by School Superintendent Danielle Bellizzi, includes the same two elements as previous years.

The sustained services budget includes costs needed to maintain the school district — like contractual salary increases, health insurance and transportation — and the strategic plan budget includes items from the school board's long-term strategic plan — like bonding for capital projects.

Bellizzi, who became superintendent six months ago, recommended a sustained services budget of $108,844,786, a 1.99 percent increase from the current year, and a strategic plan budget of $995,897, a .94 percent increase from the current year, which would bring the total budget to $109,840,683, an increase of 2.93 percent.

One of the budget drivers is declining student enrollment.

“Overall, our enrollment is declining,” Bellizzi said. “We're going to continue to watch it.”

Based on enrollment numbers as of Oct. 1, district-wide enrollment is 5,324 students. For the 2022-23 school year, enrollment is projected to drop to 5,275 students. Since the 2017-18 school year, enrollment has fallen 9.1 percent.

Special education enrollment, however, is increasing, rising district-wide from 829 students in 2017-18 to 939 students currently — an increase of 13.3 percent. 

The number of English Learner students has risen nearly 20 percent from 2017-18 — many of them qualify for both ESL services and bilingual services, which means they are receiving instruction from two different certified staff members, Bellizzi said.

The budget recommends cutting two elementary school teachers and hiring a special education teacher and an English Learner teacher, as well as adding a special education clerical position.

Sustained services

Part of the sustained services budget revolves around contractual obligations.

Teachers are slated to receive a pay raise of 1.65 percent, nurses an increase of 1.75 percent, and administrators an increase of 1.99 percent.

Among non-certified staff, paraeducators have a negotiated contractual increase of 1.75 percent, clerical staff of 1.8 percent, custodians and maintenance staff of 1.5 percent, while the managers and information technology staff are still in negotiations.

Health insurance is projected to increase 8 percent. 

The transportation contractual increase is 3 percent, but the overall transportation budget shows a decrease based on the projected routes and vehicles from the bus companies.

In the maintenance department, there’s an increase in outside contractors of 6.78 percent across six contracts for the custodial cleaning companies.

While there are no estimated increases for electric or water use and a nominal 6 percent increase for sewer, locking in fuel prices poses a challenge due to price fluctuations.

The cost of heating oil is estimated to increase 60.46 percent and natural gas is estimated to increase 48.50 percent based on price, consumption and demand charge.

Strategic plan

Items in the strategic plan budget include new positions in the current budget to be carried over into the next budget, including an additional instructional coach for the elementary schools, a full-time staff member and funding for summer hours for the Center for Innovation and Design at Mary G. Fritz Elementary School.

New requests include an early childhood coordinator, full-time nurse and part-time health office assistant.

One of the components within the strategic plan budget is the possibility of relocating Wallingford Adult Education at a cost of $198,000.

The Town Council recently approved the creation of a request for proposals to reutilize the historic train station, currently the long-time home of Adult Ed, into a commercial establishment.

“We have placed that amount in the financial impact for Adult Education,” Bellizzi said, “with the potential understanding that we may have to relocate them at some point later on this school year, or the beginning of next school year.”

Facility items requested for bonding include $2.1 million in anticipated requests for work to commence in 2022-23. Technology upgrades requested total $236,000.

The board's operations committee plans to meet again Jan. 26 to question Bellizzi and other staff about the budget proposal.

Surveys for staff and parents are slated to go out, with a deadline of 9 a.m. Monday.

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


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