The Board of Ed is still not ready to vote on a budget for 2009-2010, but it has at least taken a first step in figuring out what cuts Middletown should consider.
Back in December, Superintendent Michael Frechette submitted a "roll-over" budget to show the cost of maintaining - but not increasing - all of the school system programs, including any contracted raises in salaries or fees. The total of $73,235,856 represented a 5.61 % increase over the current year, meaning an additional $3,885,856 in education costs. In a typical year, the next step would have meant Board approval of the Superintendent's proposal, and then debate at the Common Council. Of course, this is not a typical year.
On February 4th, the Governor announced that she was not proposing any cuts to State education funding -- which represents about 25% of our local school budget. But she also proposed cuts of nearly $2 million in other funding that Middletown received this year. Unless taxes are raised, the City will either have to cut deeply into other city services, or ask the Board of Ed to share some of the pain that Hartford will likely deliver (of course, we have no idea how the Legislature will change the Governor's proposal or what funding Middletown will eventually draw from the State next year.)
Which brings us to Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting.
Chairman Ted Raczka announced that the Mayor had indicated that he would like to see the Board of Ed propose an increase of 0% to 2%, instead of the 5.61% in the Superintendent's budget. To this member of the public, it was not entirely clear whether this informal request also came from both parties in the Common Council. But the Board took it as direction on how much they could hope for from the City.
For the purpose of meeting the Mayor's need for a budget request by March 1st, Chairman Raczka proposed voting for a 2% increase, or $1,387,000 over current year, for a total budget of $70,737,000. His proposal hinged on the notion that the Board could send a "bottom line" to the Mayor, without specifying what cuts would have to be made to achieve such a small increase.
This concept drew fire from other Board members of both parties. Republican Corinne Gill instead proposed that the Superintendent should submit a 2% budget by February 17th, giving Board members a chance to review it before their next scheduled meeting on February 24th, allowing them to still meet the Mayor's deadline of March 1st. Democrat Bill Boyd liked that idea and made the motion. Bill said "I can’t emphasize enough how meaningless it is to submit 2% without listing everything that would have to be cut to get there. It borders on irresponsible. What is it going to do to our programs, our personnel? The Mayor and the Council need to know that too."
In contrast with Chairman Raczka's concern that proposing a list of cuts at this point would be too rushed, the other Board members felt that merely "sending a number" would just put off the hard work of making choices, and they wanted to avoid the late-Spring rush. Last year, the Board was forced by the Council to make significant cuts just weeks before the start of the new fiscal year.
By the end of Tuesday's meeting, the Board had approved the motion to ask the Superintendent to submit a 2% budget proposal by February 17th, with discussion to open on the 24th, and approval as soon as possible thereafter.
I'll note that to achieve an increase of only 2%, the Superintendent will have to find $2,498,986 in cuts from the flat budget that he proposed in December (you can see that roll-over budget here.) Good luck with that, Michael.
The next Board meeting, on February 24th, will consist first of a workshop on the District Improvement Plan from 6 to 7:30 pm. Then the Board will have a discussion, hopefully informed by the workshop, on what their priorities should be in this upcoming year of limited funding. Then, at 8 pm or so, they expect to open a special meeting to officially accept the District Improvement Plan and then consider the new budget. A location for the meeting has not yet been chosen.