Bristol schools to seek $107.7 million budget

Before work sessions, and a full Board of Education discussion on the package, Superintendent of Schools Ellen Solek is proposing a $107.7 million school budget for the next fiscal year.
The Board of Education has not seen an increase in its $102.7 million budget in the last four years, and if the board approves the superintendent’s proposed budget, it would be asking for about a $5 million increase, or 4.9 percent.
“This is a go-forward budget,” said Board of Education Commissioner Karen Vibert, who also chairs the board’s finance committee. She added she wishes the board could have proposed a budget that brings in new programs, and “enhances our education,” not one that maintains current operations.
The superintendent said the budget she initially put together, with requests from teachers and principals was $109.7 million. However, she subsequently pared it back. The budget proposal eliminates five positions, which are two full-time district supervisors, one full-time administrator, and two full-time teaching positions. Other reductions include text books, technology, and transportation.
The finance committee sifted through a 100-plus booklet of where every dollar was going in the district. The book was broken down into various line items, and by schools as well as by programs. The budget also provides historical information over the last five years of funding.
Salaries and benefits still make up more than half of the school’s budget, with special education following at 10.55 percent. Over the last five years, about 120 positions have been eliminated in the Bristol School District, and school officials said it simply cannot afford to have another freeze.
Funding for special education is seeing less than a 1 percent increase, at $22.47 million. Solek said it is difficult to predict exactly how much it will cost to fund special education in the city. However she said she plans to discuss this with the city to make sure they would be able to work with educators on additional funding to cover unexpected costs.
The district is expected to receive a little over $6.7 million in grants from the state and federal government, and other sources, which is a large drop from when it received $16 million in 2010.
Board Commissioner Thomas O’Brien said the public needs to be aware that even though salaries and benefits are a large portion of the budget, it doesn’t mean administrators and teachers are over-paid.
“Bristol is in mid-range for salaries and benefits,” O’Brien said. He added residents are going to start leaving the city to live in surrounding communities where education is not under-funded, like towns that have all-day kindergarten and other educational services.
“They’re (surrounding communities) providing more funding than we are,” he said.
Board Commissioner Larry Amara said he believed the budget made a lot of sense and called it “a bare-bones budget. These are things that are needed to operate.”
The finance committee will hold a workshop before presenting it to the entire Board of Education. Once the full board approves the budget, it will be sent to the city’s Board of Finance.