Saturday, June 15, 2024

Stratford School Budget – The Facts

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What You Need to Know

The conversation about our schools arises every year around the budget. We don’t hear much about the reading levels and how we rank next to our neighbors in achievement. It is always about the size of the budget and the haggling with the Town  Council.

This year there are allegations of insinuating misrepresentation, which resulted in a 2 million dollar budget surplus, and an increase in our mil rate.

The data shared is from publicly available sources.

Here are the facts:

  1. There was a 2 million dollar surplus largely due to unfilled positions, retirement savings and well managed overtime. Please see below for the budget surplus analysis.
  2. The Board of Education always has a surplus.(See below) This year’s budget was  based on the inability to fill positions. We had overcrowded classrooms and teacher and paraprofessional shortage is a national problem. According to research conducted by the Connecticut State Department of  Education, more than 2,600 teacher and para-educator positions went unfilled into the spring of 2023.
  3. All surplus goes back to the town and is used to supplement its budget.
  4. The ordinance committee created and the town council approved an education reserve fund (ERF) in 2020. The ERF was created to allow for a roll over of any surplus amount, into three distinctive areas that may require assistance in funding; special education, transportation and technology. The ERF would in turn lessen the taxpayer burden with rising costs, but it has never been funded. Account balance is ZERO.
  5. Inflation. Cost of Living. Rising Contractual expenses. Three legitimate reasons any budget will require an increase. This coming year, contractually bound, there will be a 2% salary increase plus step increases when teachers achieve certain milestones. There will be continued increases to run any district; transportation costs, utilities and medical insurance, which is expected to increase by 12%.
  6. The 2024 fiscal year will begin with a $1 million budget deficit as a result of  the separate $1 million GRANT funds the Town provided through ARPA funds. These funds went to programs, and, if they are to continue, are not reflected in the budget and will require an additional $1 Million dollars in the 2024 budget.

Questions

Why call out the budget surplus this year, especially since the funds were intended to be returned to the ERF, but are once again in the Town’s general fund? Is it because the town leadership is trying to blame the increased mil rate on the Board of Education? The Town’s budget increased by 2%; raises were given in all Departments, the schools’ budget increased by 1.5%.

Why hasn’t the educational reserve fund been funded? The $2 million dollar surplus of this year, combined with all three previous, would go a very long way to stabilizing next year’s budget and preventing additional tax payer hikes.  Additionally, if the BOE did not have a surplus, the town would have a deficit!

When a school system cuts enrichment and can’t fund administrators identified needs for their buildings, would you consider them properly funded? When a school system has 32 kids in a class, should it be considered well-funded?

Lou DeCilio, chairperson of the Republican Town Committee, states in the Connecticut Post: “I have a math word problem I’d like to run by you. If the mayor and the Town Council approve a budget for the Board of Education and the Board of Education doesn’t spend all the money they are given by the mayor and the Town Council, how much money is the Board of Education underfunded? The answer is zero.” 
One would contend that the inability to hire teachers, a state-wide issue, resulting in a budget surplus does not mean the schools are well-funded or the children well-taught. Mr. DeCilio’s Math needs some work.

(Note: The following information was obtained by request from Board of Education COO Pamela Mangini)

2022-2023 FY Budget vs Actual Overview

The following reflects the primary areas of variances between budget-to-actual expenses and contributed to the year-end balance.

Salaries

  • Certified $1,144,518.00
    • Result of personnel transiency and unfilled positions
  • Non-certified $649,119.00
    • Significant year-end balance due to difficulty in filling classroom instructional aides
    • A large balance due to the challenge in securing both teacher and clerical subs
  • Overtime $ 87,250.00
    • Overtime was carefully monitored during the fiscal year and the Board reduced the FY24 budget for this line item

Benefits

  • Employee Health Insurance $738,329.00
    • Savings as a result of unfilled positions plus savings due to a negotiated renewal in January 2023 for retiree insurance
  • Dental $286,084.00
    • Savings are a result of unfilled positions
  • Defined Contributions $143,360.00
    • Savings are a result of unfilled positions
  • Social Security/Medicare $181,737.00
    • Savings are a result of unfilled positions
  • Unemployment $90,157.00
    • The annual trend was less than projected
  • Other Employee $122,738.00
    • Includes payments for unused sick leave
    • Pay benefits out to larger than expected number of retirees

Based on projected year-end balance of $3,197,816.00, Board approved transfer of funds for purchases relating to Technology, Building Maintenance and Regular and Special Education Supplies, resulting in a final, unaudited balance of $2,030,359.00.

(Please note that the projected year-end balances are unaudited and estimated based on current information.)

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