At the request of Board Chairman Vinnie Loffredo, School Superintendent Pat Charles presented three budget alternatives to the Board on Tuesday night.
Based on an assumption that a state requirement forces the city to remain below a 2.5% increase in property taxes, Charles presented a stripped-down 2.5% ($2,006,829) increase budget that barely covers the costs of contracted salary and cost of living increases, and which calls for the potential loss of 8 teaching positions. In addition, she proposed two additional budgets, one at 3.46% ($2,778,329), which would also call for a reduction of eight teaching positions and one at 4.86% ($3,900,878) which would allow the district to go forward with no reduction in teaching positions.
Board member Christopher Drake question why the board should even consider increases of 3.46% and 4.86% if the city's ability to raise taxes had a ceiling of 2.5%.
Loffredo explained that he felt it was the Board's duty to consider what was best for the students in the district even if it meant approaching the Common Council for an increase. Loffredo explained that the tax increase cap imposed by the state was being challenged by municipalities and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE).
Other factors will affect the Board's budget deliberations. A projected $1.5 billion deficit at the state level portends funding shortfalls at the municipal level, and Governor Dannel Malloy's proposal to create a new school funding formula means that funding levels are bound to change.
Based on current state budget woes, in December, state Alliance Grant contributions to the Middletown school district budget were cut by $246,000 for this school year by Governor Dannel Malloy and the State Department of Education. Malloy cut funding to education in many municipalities, but did not cut funding for Connecticut charter schools. In addition, the Middletown district has no promise that its Alliance Grant will be renewed. That grant covers 73 positions in the school budget, along with other expenses.
"If that grant goes away, a lot of people are going to lose their jobs," Board member Linda Synkowicz explained, noting that the $80 million the Board requests from the city does not reflect the true budget of more than $100 million which is partially funded by a portfolio of grants from a number of different sources.
"The bottom line is that there will be fewer vital services to our students and in particular our neediest students," Charles said.
In preparing the budget recommendations for the Board, the school administrative staff faced ongoing issues with budgetary software recommended by the city which has never performed as promised, and continues to produce reports rife with errors.
"The version we are using has been very difficult in implementing," Charles said, indicating that a report printed that day delivered bottom line figures that differed by tens of thousands of dollars.
One of the more controversial proposals for saving money in the budgets is to adjust the starting time at the High School and elementary schools to provide more time between tier one and tier three school buses so that up to four buses could be eliminated.
Charles had proposed a ten minute earlier start time at the high school and a fifteen minute later start at elementary schools, but Board members thought the earlier start time at the high school and asked Charles to consider alternatives. Charles said that other alternatives could have the same cost-saving effect.