Budget proposal keeps Region 16 spending flat

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Shift in student population puts more of the burden on Prospect

PROSPECT — Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin’s proposed 2020-21 school budget has a familiar ring to it when it comes to spending.

Yamin’s $40.7 million budget proposal would keep school spending flat for the second straight year.

“We’re proposing that the Board of Ed can provide the resources that we need for our students with a 0% increase,” said Yamin as he presented the proposal during the board’s Feb. 26 meeting.

Salaries and benefits make up 72% of the budget. Salaries are increasing about $700,000 to roughly $23 million in the budget proposal. The cost of health care increases $389,172 to about $4.9 million in the proposal, though officials are still negotiating the district’s renewal cost.

The budget proposal features several new initiatives, including a new math curriculum for elementary school students that costs $83,085, and a certified nursing assistant course at Woodland Regional High School that costs about $40,000.

School officials offset increases with savings in other areas of the spending plan to come in with a flat budget. The largest saving came in debt service. The district made its final payment on the bond for the construction of Woodland High this fiscal year, freeing up $1.1 million in the budget.

The budget proposal includes a few staff changes as enrollment in the district continues to decline. As of Oct. 1, 2019, there were 2,068 students in the region, which is 416 less than in 2010.

The proposal would cut a 10-month secretary position and a part-time teaching position at Woodland. The teaching position would be eliminated through attrition. The proposal also reduces the assistant principal position at Long River Middle School and a secretary position from 12 months to 10 months, and reduces the Woodland library aide position to 32.5 hours a week. The staff cuts and reductions amount to $96,565.

“We have a responsibility to reallocate some of our resources and we have a responsibility to be fiscally responsible as well as provide what our kids need,” Yamin said.

Even though the budget proposal keeps spending flat, the projected impact on the net education costs for Beacon Falls and Prospect, the towns that comprise the region, differ drastically.

The net education cost, which is the share of the school budget funded by local taxes, is divided between the two towns based on the percentage of students from each town. The percentage of Prospect students has grown over recent years, which has shifted more of the burden on the town.

As of Oct. 1, 2019, 63.25% of the region’s students were from Prospect, up from 61.78% the previous year. The percentage of Beacon Falls students dropped from 38.22% in 2018 to 36.75% in 2019.

Based on the student population ratio and estimated revenues, Prospect’s net cost would increase $1.4 million, or 7.4%, to $20.5 million, according to the budget proposal. Beacon Falls’ net cost would go down $53,025, or 0.4%, to $10.8 million.

Yamin said the revenue figures, including the state Education Cost Sharing grants for each town, in the proposal are estimates and likely to change as the board continues to craft the budget.

School officials didn’t factor a projected budget surplus for revenue in the budget proposal for 2020-21. Historically, the board has included projected budget surpluses when building a budget for a new fiscal year to help offset the towns’ education expenses.

The 2019-20 school budget included a projected surplus from the 2018-19 budget, but the board transferred the surplus to pay for capital items. The transfer occurred after the budgets for both towns and the region were approved, leaving no surplus. Beacon Falls officials factored the town’s share of the surplus as revenue in its budget — Prospect officials didn’t — and is now short about $114,000 for its education payments. Officials are working to resolve the issue.

School officials didn’t include an anticipated surplus in the 2020-21 budget proposal, in part, to avoid any future issues.

“This is the budget,” Yamin said. “The number we give you is what we can predict.”

The board will review the budget during upcoming workshops. The board will hold a hearing on its proposal April 8 at 7 p.m. at Long River, then the budget goes to a vote in early May.

Board Chairman Priscilla Cretella said she thinks the proposal is a well-crafted budget, but added the board is just starting its work on it.

“We’ll be working on it for the next month, and I expect some ups and downs, but I’m very hopeful that this will be our budget,” she said.

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