Log In

Reset Password

Finance Board Moves $1 Million From Education Budget



Text Size

With financial challenges facing the Board of Education budget balancing against the financial challenges faced by Newtown’s taxpayers, the Board of Finance debated over final numbers of the 2024-25 proposed education budget during a nearly three hour meeting on February 26.

In the end, after $455,000 in maintenance costs was removed from the school budget and moved to the Capital Non-Recurring Fund, the finance board made an additional $554,383 in cuts, with suggested cuts to a proposed dean of students position and removal of money in the paraprofessionals line item to account for time when some paraprofessional positions are unfilled.

The bottom line for the Board of Education went to $88,817,373, a $3,747,722 or 4.4% increase over last year. The Board of Education had approved a $89,826,756, a $4,747,105 or 5.56% increase.

It took the board three attempts to arrive at these numbers, with two votes on these exact numbers after several members who voted against the proposal the first time, Bryce Chinault and Barney Molloy, asked for a reconsideration of that vote. It was approved in the end, 5-1, with Stephen Goodridge still voting against, after being rejected 3-3 with Chinault, Goodridge, and Molloy voting against the first time.

“The superintendent explained why it is how it is,” said Molloy. “I agree totally. We’re between a rock and a hard place. We have to look at the education budget and the town as a whole.”

Molloy’s concerns were that the school budget increased by $10 million over a nine year period, and then increased another $10 million over the most recent four years, and “looks to be on a path to increase $10 million over the next two years.”

“We’re on an unsustainable path and we need a course correction,” said Molloy.

However, following the initial rejection of the 4.4% increase, Molloy said he was not seeing further places to cut the budget as proposed, and Chinault could not either.

“It speaks to the structural issues we’ve discussed and the challenges the district faces,” said Molloy.

Superintendent Chris Melillo earlier in the meeting noted some of the challenges the board was facing, in catching students up after learning loss from the pandemic, and that contractual salaries are increasing, as well as health benefits increasing by 16% over the past two years.

“That cost us $1 million in this budget,” said Melillo. “All of us here want to see the schools be successful. My job is to do that, your [the finance board] job is to do the best you can for the schools while still being cognizant that we can’t price people out of town.”

Major drivers in the school budget are a $1,978,394 increase in salaries, a $995,194 increase in benefits, a $721,700 increase in supplies, a $587,073 increase in purchased property services, a $240,208 increase in other purchased services, and a $148,063 increase for property and equipment.

Salaries are increasing 3.58 percent, with the teachers union receiving a 1.5 percent increase and two percent for the top step only, the administrator union receiving a 2.75 percent wage increase, the custodial and maintenance union receiving a three percent increase, and the educational personnel union receiving a three percent increase.

During a presentation to the finance board earlier in the month, Superintendent of Schools Chris Melillo outlined the numerous fiscal challenges facing the schools this year, including rising costs of benefits, contractual wage increases, aging facilities, inflationary pressures, unfunded state mandates, the lingering effects of interrupted learning from the pandemic, and a fiscal cliff.

Melillo said the district is facing challenges in supporting students, including behavioral issues, social emotional development, chronic absenteeism, and the need for mental health support.

The municipal budget was approved without cuts to its bottom line of $48,834,506, a $1,308,366 or 2.75 percent spending increase.

An amendment to the budget was floated to add $100,000 to the budget to give a requested extra police officer to the Police Department, but that amendment was defeated 5-1, with only Chairman Jim Gaston, who suggested the amendment, voting in the affirmative.

First Selectman Jeff Capeci voiced opposition to the amendment, saying he had done a study on the police force’s work hours and overtime and found an additional officer was not warranted at this time. While Gaston hoped to add the officer since it would give the Legislative Council a chance to consider whether they wanted to keep the officer or not — the council, by charter, cannot make additions to the first selectman’s budget while the Board of Finance can — Capeci noted that Police Chief David Kullgren was looking at a grant that would assist the town in paying for an additional officer, but could not be used for officers that were already in the town’s budget.

The overall budget of $137,651,879, a $5,056,088 or 3.7% spending increase, will go to the Legislative Council for its review, possible cuts, and final approval. The council will begin its review in March. Voters will decide at referendum on April 23. The mill rate is currently proposed to increase from 26.24 to 27.24, a 1 mill or 3.82% tax increase.

Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

Comments are open. Be civil.
1 comment
  1. rodneymunos says:

    Budget should be cut by 20%, spending $2.65 million dollars per every week forever is absolutely unsustainable ! Do everything possible to Vote No on another nonsensical attempt to increase the cost of living ! Taxpayers are honestly just renting their houses from the town, it costs me $40 every night to sleep in my own bed ! Soon it will be cheaper living in a hotel than owning a property in Newtown !

Leave a Reply