It is our intent, as the Stratford Board of Education, to respond to some of the questions being brought up about the Stratford School budget, in the interest of keeping our community informed with accurate information.
First of all, our budget is a zero-based budget. This means that all accounts are taken to zero, and then built up from zero based on the actual needs of the district. The actuals/historical expenditures are consulted throughout the budget process on a regular basis. The budget proposal is then vetted by multiple public budget workshops conducted by the finance committee of the Board of Education along with a number of community members.
This year, there were a total of eight workshops. Once an agreement is made there, it goes to the Board of Education as a whole for approval. From there, it is sent to the mayor, and finally to the Town Council. The Board of Education budget is audited not once but twice annually. One is part of the Town’s overall audit process by RSM US LLP, Certified Public Accountants, and again by the Connecticut State Department of Education. Our numbers referred to by these annual audits show a consistent 99.9% of the budget has been expended each of the last three years. The State Office of Policy and Management are part of the State Department of Education process, so their standards for audit are rigorous.
Other questions that have been asked:
- Weren’t the modular classrooms supposed to allow the district to bring back outplaced special education students? Stratford never stated that special education students would be brought back into the district. The modular classrooms were requested to fill the needs of the 22 known students coming into the district, at that point in time. It was not a cost savings, rather cost avoidance.
- Can’t we save money by removing any nonresidents from our district? Grade 5 residency verification has taken place over the course of the 2016-17 school year. So far, out of 542 students, the Grade 5 residency verification process has only uncovered one family not residing in Stratford. The Board took on this project to attack the residency issue some perceive Stratford to have. In regards to savings, to be exact, our cost expenditure per pupil is $14,631. Even when we do identify a student as not living in Stratford, it does not render much savings. The only way the district could realize savings would be if a large number of students in the same grade level at the same school were found to be here illegally. If that scenario should happen, then we could eliminate an entire classroom (at a given school) which in turn would eliminate a teacher. That would render a savings. The other scenario rendering a savings would be if a student or students were found that required expensive special education services.
- Isn’t there a requirement that every district must have a strategic plan? There is no requirement for a school district to publish a strategic plan. However, our district is in the middle of the strategic planning process which will provide direction for the next 5 years. This will be brought to the Board of Education at the end of this year for approval.
- Have our administrators’ costs increased dramatically? Administrators are certified and are absolutely essential for student performance and accountability of teacher evaluations. Administration salaries have gone from $4,716,591 in actual expenditures in 2013-2014 to an estimated expenditure amount of $5,002,228 in 2016-17. That is a 6.056% increase in four years. That is a minimal increase for the work and the stresses of our building principals.
- Have custodian salaries increased dramatically? From 2013-14 through 2015-16, there has been an increase of 8.7%. The increase in custodian salaries is due to contracted increases.
- Why is there a budget for heating oil if the schools use gas? Heating Oil is essential to our schools? The furnaces are dual-fueled with gas and oil. The district must have an abundant supply of oil should something go wrong with fueling the furnaces with gas. The hot water heaters also run on oil rather than gas. Oil acts as insurance for the heating of our schools during the winter months.
- Why do some of the line items change during the year from the budgeted amount? There are numerous unexpected expenditures that can occur in a school district. For example, 33 special education students moved into the district this school year requiring services at a cost of $1.3 million dollars. Federal law states that the district has to provide special education for these students. These are amounts that can’t be budgeted ahead of time because the answer is unknown. Also, the special education department was audited at the request of the Town of Stratford in 2013. As a result of that audit, special education staff had to be increased in order to provide the services required. We have had to respond to the audit. A copy of the audit report can be viewed on the district website.
- Freeze the Board of Ed budget. Based on our District Reference Group (DRG), we spent $14,631 per child, which is the third lowest in our DRG (and below the state average). The lowest per student expenditure in our DRG is $ 13,898 and the highest being $ 21,260. Does it really make sense to move backwards when we are already at the bottom of our DRG and we are slightly above the state grading system (73.1) for school districts and Stratford is a 73.8? Can freezing the budget move our score higher? Is it really our goal to become the lowest community in our DRG in per pupil spending?
It is in the spirit of being accountable to our community that we are, and will continue, to respond to your questions. As a community, we are growing the future of Stratford with a solid foundation that includes a welcoming community to parents and a successful school community in which all students acquire the knowledge, skills and confidence to meet the challenges of a changing and increasingly diverse society.
The Stratford Board of Education is comprised of Chairman James Feehan, Vice Chairman Leonard Petruccelli, Theresa Sheehy, Christian Barnaby, Maria Buturla, Susan Lance and Eric Lazaro.