In what some members called an historic turn of events, the Board of Education passed a budget on the second day of deliberations, coming in at less than the Town Council target of a 2 percent increase.
The Board of Education Tuesday night adopted a $56,547,790 budget for 2013-14, which includes a 1.96 percent spending increase, or $1.08 million, over the current year.
The board made a few cuts and clarified a mistake to reduce the budget from the 2.52 percent increase originally recommended by Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Greider on Monday.
"The safety and security funds were not part of the operating budget," explained Board Chairman Mary Grace Reed. "It was an error when it came in."
The board discussed Monday night how to request and accurately portray the $200,000 Greider anticipated would be needed to make safety and security upgrades that have yet to be recommended as a result of an audit that is currently underway.
Results of the audit, prompted by the Newtown school shootings, are expected this May.
After discussions with Town Council Chairman Jeff Hogan, the board passed a motion to remove the money from the operating budget and recommend that the council consider a $200,000 expenditure for school safety and security measures based on the recommendations of the security auditor.
Reed said after the meeting Tuesday that the change is the correct way to present the funding request.
"You inflate the base of the budget when you add one-time expenditures to the budget. It's not fair to taxpayers to have an expenditure like that inflate the base," she said.
The remaining reductions to Greider's proposed budget came from the superintendent's office.
- Teacher salary account was reduced by $50,000 as a result of late retirements.
- Community relations reduced by $280 as a result of an error.
- Repairs to equipment reduced by $2,500 because the purchase of a new boiler negated the need to make repairs.
- Classroom equipment replacement reduced by $59,683 because savings in the 2012-13 budget will allow its purchase (mostly desks, chairs, cabinetry and chalkboards) in this fiscal year.
The money for equipment found in the 2012-13 budget resulted from fuel savings at West District School, which was converted from oil to natural gas in 2012. The equipment, which Greider called "much needed" has been cut from several previous budgets and will be purchased and put into use during this school year.
The superintendent's original recommendation, without the security funds, was 2.16 percent, though teachers get a negotiated increase of 2.25 percent, with no step increase.
Greider said in her presentation that the budget comes as a result of "cost avoidance and cost-saving measures."
That includes savings in benefits and self-insurance. In recent contract negotiations, the board was able to restructure health care benefits, moving to a Health Savings Account and including increased employee contributions. The board also was able to reduce self-insurance spending due to reduced claims.
"It was a lucky year for self-insurance but the plan design and contributions will keep on giving," Reed said. She also touted the negotiated freeze in teachers' step increase as providing significant savings.
"This is a reflection of four or five years of reorienting how we do things in self-insurance in partnership with the town and how we're providing benefits," said board member Bill Beckert.
Since the board concluded budget discussions Tuesday, the scheduled Wednesday night meeting has been canceled. The board's recommended budget now passes to the Town Council for consideration.