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Shelton BOE board braces for a potentially painful budget season

January 10, 2019

SHELTON — The city school board’s first budget workshop for the 2019-20 fiscal year produced no bottom line but set the stage for a potentially painful challenge.

Contained within the thick, three-ring binders handed out to board members on Wednesday were contractual salaries could inflate the district’s $72.7 million operating budget by 2.8 percent. Special education costs, according to projections could add another 1.4 percent to district costs. And combined, anticipated health insurance increases, new textbook and technology purchases and new staffing requests could push the envelope another 2.8 percent.

“As you can see we are not proposing that,” Schools Superintendent Chris Clouet said of a bottom line that would swell by 7 percent or $5 million if everything in the binders was approved.

“This is not what we are going to do,” Clouet repeated. “I want to make it crystal clear.”

Still, by the end of the month, Clouet’s plan is to propose a bottom line that can pass political muster yet inch the district closer to its goal of becoming one of the top 25 school districts in the state as measured by state standardized test scores.

“It will be based on a series of conversations, not just a number I come up with,” Clouet said.

In between now and the end of the month, there will be sessions with school officials and the public as well as an exploration of some cost saving ideas.

A proposal is due to the city by mid February.

On average over the past decade, district increases have averaged 1.45 percent, much less than requested. In the 2018-19 school year, for instance, the district asked for a 3.99 percent increase and got 1.72 percent.

Board member Amanda Kilmartin likened the result to a punch in the gut.

Last year, to offset $347,000 in expenses that the city and state didn’t cover, the district instituted a pay-for-play program, started charging tuition to some students attending preschool and a fee to parents whose children attend magnet schools.

Enrollment in the district is expected to stay flat in the next school year, Clouet said. Transportation costs, are to be determined. The school board was told the city has yet to present it with a detailed plan for taking over the school operation as promised.

Ed Drapp, the district’s outgoing finance director, called the new budget zero-based, meaning principals and department leaders were “given a blank page.” The binders include raw numbers and all requests made so the board.

The intent, Clouet said is to make the board aware of what each cut means in terms of increased class sizes, deferred maintenance, reduced reading and math support, an increased reliance on parents to fund raise for basic school needs and potentially more pay to play fees.

Others, including board member Dave Gioiello, called for the board to hone their argument for funding, by backing the request up with more compelling facts.

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