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Salaries biggest driver for Redding budgets

December 18, 2018

REDDING — Personnel and contractual salary increases are the largest drivers for the town and schools in the upcoming budget.

The schools’ budget will also have large portions dedicated for special education and transportation. On the town side, the selectmen are expecting more money for maintenance, tree removal and capital purchases.

The budget process is still early and so hard numbers haven’t been announced yet, but a general overview was discussed at a joint meeting between the boards of selectmen, finance and education Monday.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas McMorran said about half of the budget is made up of personnel costs and contracts require pay raises. He said it’s also higher because about 80 of the 100 or so teachers are on the top pay step.

He said the board was able to change the pay scales from 12 to 16 steps to better reflect the models across the state and help save some money. The board also encouraged early retirement as a way to save money.

“It’s generally people who cost you the most,” McMorran said.

The second biggest component of the school budget is special education at about 27 percent.

“It is immensely important that we don’t find ourselves falling into special education v. general education,” McMorran said.

McMorran said there are more students who require special services because the identification of disabilities has gotten better over time. He said you will also see more at the earlier levels because teaching the skills to cope with the disability early means the students might no longer need services as they get older.

He said Redding isn’t usually able to get money back from the state for special education because it’s smaller and struggles to meet the formula’s threshold.

“There’s an economics of scale you don’t just benefit from,” McMorran said.

Transportation is also expected to be about $1.3 million.

McMorran said that because these items are required, it most likely leaves class sizes and the program offerings as the changes the board will have to consider during the budget process. He said they’ve been able to get by with eliminating classes based on declining enrollment, but those numbers are expected to level out in the mid 800s for the next four years and then increase annually so that’s not an option anymore.

Some residents and finance board members worried about the cuts in the past for the schools.

“We’re cutting meat now, not fat,” said Robert Dean, a finance board member.

Redding Board of Education only covers K-8 in town. Region 9 oversees Joel Barlow High School with representatives from both Redding and Easton and acts as its own finance board.

On the town side, First Selectwoman Julia Pemberton said the biggest increases in addition to the salary raises for the police and highway unions are for maintenance items.

This includes an additional $100,000 for tree work, bringing the line item to $150,000, so that the town can start to get a handle on the dead and dying ash trees. It generally costs about $500 a tree and there are about 900 trees slated to be removed.

Some of the capital items include a Station Road bridge, possibly a new dump truck and a new emergency communications system, which will cost the town $1.3 million. The fire districts are also contributing for the radios.

Pemberton also suggested the creation of a facilities director position that would oversee the maintenance of the two schools and the town buildings.

The library is also asking for the town’s contribution to be increased 5 percent, bringing the total request to $29,000.

Pemberton said there were some savings, including $20,000 no longer needed for the recent revaluation, $50,000 less for legal as the big cases wrap up and $95,000 for salaries based on new hires and departures.

A listening session is scheduled for the school board at Mark Twain Library on Jan. 3. The selectmen’s all day budget workshop is Jan. 11 where all of the department heads will make presentations.

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