Region 16 board OKs $40.7M budget

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

PROSPECT — The Region 16 Board of Education opted to stay with a flat budget for the coming fiscal year rather than prepay for services and cut spending, citing the impact that would have on the 2021-22 budget.

The school board approved a $40.7 million budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year during a virtual meeting April 22. It marked the first time the board set its budget, which is typically approved by voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The state waived requirements for public budget votes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget keeps overall school spending at the same level as this fiscal year.

The board had the option to cut the budget by about 1% by using anticipated surplus funds from this fiscal year to prepay $400,000 in health care and $85,000 in curriculum expenses in the 2020-21 budget. School officials estimate the 2019-20 budget will end with a surplus of about $1 million due to savings in contractual services because schools are closed.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin recommended — and the board agreed — to not cut the budget. He said if the board prepaid for services and cut the budget by $485,000, that amount would be added to any potential spending increase for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which officials said is going to be a more challenging budget year.

School officials maintained overall spending at $40.7 million for 2020-21 due largely to a reduction of $1.1 million in debt payments that helped to offset increases in other areas.

School board Vice Chairman Robert Hiscox, who ran last week’s meeting in the absence of Chairman Priscilla Cretella, said there aren’t any large debt reductions coming up for a while.

The board will return surplus funds to the towns next year after the budget is audited. The board could also transfer some of the surplus — up to 1% of the budget — to its capital non-recurring account.

Hiscox said school officials will give an estimated surplus figure to the towns that municipal officials could use in their budgets as revenue to limit any tax rate increase.

“I think it’s the most prudent way to go,” he said.

Though there is no increase to the budget’s bottom line, the net education costs for Beacon Falls and Prospect aren’t staying the same. The net cost is the share of the school budget funded by local taxes. The net cost is divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect based on the percentage of students from each town. The percentage of Prospect students increased to 63.25%, which shifted more of the burden on the town.

Based on the student population ratio and estimated revenues, Prospect is projected to pay $1.4 million more, while Beacon Falls will pay $53,025 less for the school budget.

The Prospect Town Council was still crafting the town’s budget as of last week. Beacon Falls officials adopted a budget proposal last week that would keep the town’s tax rate flat.

The school budget makes some staff changes. The budget cuts a 10-month secretary position and a part-time teaching position. The budget also reduces the assistant principal position at Long River Middle School and a secretary position from 12 months to 10 months a year, and reduces a library aide position to 32.5 hours a week.

The budgets adds a new, full-time transitional kindergarten teacher position to help students in kindergarten and first grade who may have fallen behind since the district turned to distance learning. The position is only for next school year, officials said.