Wednesday, in a meeting with two reporters, Superintendent Jerome Belair revealed his proposed $44.87 million budget for the 2013-14 school year, a 1.51 percent increase from this year’s $44.2 million total.
Belair said this was one of the lowest percentage increases proposed "in Waterford history" for the school department’s budget, as the school budget has increased by 3 percent each of the last two years. He said his budget was held down thanks to long-term planning by the school district and by finding ways to offer better services for the same or less cost.
“When you get in a pickle, you can make short-term cuts that will help you that year,” said Belair, referring to the situation he faced in the 2011-12 budget when Waterford had to eliminate more than 20 positions from the school district. “We didn’t do that. We always looked at the long-term approach.”
The proposal adds a guidance counselor at Clark Lane Middle School and an extra security guard at the high school. It also strengthens the talented and gifted program and math support in Waterford's three elementary schools. Belair also proposed reducing two teaching positions at the high school, which he said should have a “minimal impact” on class sizes, and adds them to the elementary schools, which currently have classes as large as 25 students.
“I believe the budget both sustains our tradition of excellence and our obligation of prudent financial management,” Belair wrote on the opening page of his 105-page proposed budget. “The Recommended Budget presents a spending plan that will allow the Waterford Public Schools to fulfill its educational mission and supports each of the Board’s adopted Budget Assumptions.”
The Board of Education will review the budget tonight and on January 17th during two budget workshops that are open to the public. Then, on January 24th, the Board of Education will meet to take final action on the budget.
The largest reason for the $666,197 increase in Belair’s proposal is a $430,161 increase in tuition Waterford pays to other schools for Waterford students who choose to attend other schools than Waterford. Another large increase is a $319,963 increase the town has to pay for special education, which is from the state cutting its aid to towns for special education and for more students needing more expensive services, he said.
“When you see an increase, it is generally around something we don’t control,” Belair said.
There is a $569,016 increase in salaries as well, although that is balanced out by a $354,080 decrease in health care thanks to “aggressive” negotiating, Belair said. That’s a drastic change from the last two years, where heath care costs were the biggest increases in the school’s budget.
This year, Belair returned $550,000 in the health care line item to the town. The reasons were many, but chief among them was because he negotiated concessions to employees’ health benefit contracts. Health insurance premiums will actually increase 12 percent next year, but that is off a baseline $550,000 below what was approved for this year, he said.
Belair proposed adding an extra guidance counselor at the middle school because, right now, each middle school guidance counselor serves more than 300 children. By adding a third counselor, each will serve 218 students, which aligns with the state’s guidelines.
He also proposed taking two teaching positions from the high school and adding them to the elementary schools to keep all elementary class sizes below 22 students. This year, some fifth grade classes have 25 students. Belair could not guarantee that eliminating the two positions at the high school would not result in layoffs, although he said he was trying to find a way to do it through attrition.
He could reduce the number of high school teachers and have a “minimal” impact on class sizes because the overall enrollment at the high school is projected to drop by 41 students. Overall, Belair is projecting the enrollment in Waterford schools to drop by 97 students next year, from 2,626 to 2,529.
He also proposed adding an extra security guard at the high school because he said the new school is so large, it requires a second security guard along with the police officer stationed at the high school. He said the decision to add the security guard was made before the Newtown tragedy.
There is a budget workshop tonight and on January 17th from 7 to 9 inside Town Hall where the administration will go through the entire budget. The meetings are open to the public and the meeting will be taped and added to the school district’s website as well.