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Farmington School Board Passes Budget with 1.96 Percent Increase

Safety and security funding comes out of school operating budget to help bring down increase.

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.

Paul Chotkowski February 13, 2013 at 03:10 PM
An interesting insight into how our schools are managed. It was common knowledge that West District School was converting to natural gas. One can only assume that fuel was purchased in the futures market or at least by annual contract. Operations must have known the price & usage estimates but they did not make it to the budget. In private industry what we have here is call a SLUSH FUND! If one of my managers tried to hide savings from me, I would terminate his employ & that of anyone involved in the effort. But wait it gets better. Once the SOS [and possibly the BOE] is successful in hiding her “free money account” she gets to spend it on items that heretofore WERE NOT APPROVED. So by hiding the savings & spending it before there is any audit or oversight from the BOE or TC she has denied the taxpayers any say in how the money should be spent. This incident highlights a shameful lack of oversight of school management by the BOE which at best doesn't understand its own budget or at worst is complicit in a “bait and switch / slush fund” scheme to bypass the TC & taxpayers. I am trying to recall a saying that Babcia had about fish, rot and the head? It is time for Ms Grace to step down. She has been on the BOE for too long & is too comfortable with evident backroom management practices by the SOS. Hiding information from the taxpayers under thin pretense is wrong. It may not be illegal, it may be the way it has been done for years, but it is shameful and should stop!
Greg Tomb February 14, 2013 at 03:58 AM
The $59k should be rebated to taxpayers. It's time to switch to a voucher system to pay for the education budget.

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