School committee finds not enough detail to allocate spending

Questions on large issues remain

The Finance Committee of the Board of Education met June 3 to finalize its allocation of the $97,952,000 schools budget for 2015 that was approved by the Town Council, but postponed a decision because it was not satisfied with the level of budget details that was received from schools’ central administration.

The finance committee consists of the seven elected members of the Board of Education plus four at-large members of the public.

Details presented by Superintendent Dr. Janet Robinson and Chief Operating Officer Clarence Zachery included five numbers that added up to the $2,780,000 that the BOE must take out of the budget, which it approved and requested from the town, in order to get to the number that the council approved as final.

Those numbers that the superintendent recommended be removed from the BOE plan are $703,000 for kindergarten tutors, $1,304,000 for technology, $230,000 for general services, $145,800 for textbooks, and $396,000 for instructional supplies.

Robinson said that the tutors she had sought for kindergarten would not be hired. The $1.3 million for technology is now expected to come mostly from the town’s Capital Improvement Budget. Some or all of the textbooks and supplies that would be removed from the 2015 budget would be paid for from a surplus in the 2014 budget, according to Zachery.

Besides those details, most of the meeting was spent with committee members asking to be shown precisely what lines in the budget were changed to get to the superintendent’s larger five numbers.

Committee member David Kennedy said he was “frustrated” because he takes responsibility to review the itemized spending plan in great detail. He said he is used to seeing a list of changes between a proposed budget and a revised budget. He said had “no idea where the changes are.”

Member Bob David agreed that the budget revisions “were not easy to follow.”
Len Petruccelli, an elected member, said he feels like there is a “lack of transparency with the budget,” and that he was “not happy with the format (of the budget sheets presented by the administration) at all.”

A number of other big-picture concerns about the schools were expressed by the committee and the administration, which added to the need for more time to contemplate exactly how the school budget would be allocated. Those expressed concerns included: School buildings being at capacity and new apartment developments resulting in new children arriving to schools; not having money to train staff with new technology (without incurring overtime); a very small contingency budget of under $200,000 and having an assistant to the superintendent accounted for in that number; having “not enough personnel to do the work,” according to Robinson; not knowing what funds will be coming from the state; and not fully addressing an audit of special education, which called last fall for across-the-board improvements.

The committed decided to reconvene on the budget on Monday, June 9, at 6:30 p.m.

For an expanded report from this meeting go to StratfordStar.com.

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