By LISA CAPOBIANCO
The Bristol Board of Education adopted a budget of $106.8 million for Fiscal Year 2015-2016, which represents a 0 percent increase over the current budget.
During a meeting held last Wednesday, the school board voted 6-3 in favor of the budget, which includes the restoration of middle school programming, such as interscholastic sports and classroom music instruction. The budget also includes a reduction in healthcare costs totaling $1,550,000.
Commissioners Chris Wilson, Karen Hintz, and Karen Vibert voted against the budget.
“I don’t feel that this budget is in the best interests of students and families,” said Wilson, who voted against the budget for the first time in the 12 years he has served as commissioner.
During the meeting, Wilson said he was not in favor of the budget for two reasons: lack of transparency and lack of resources. Earlier this year, Bristol Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ellen Solek initially proposed a budget that recommended an increase of 3.36 percent. That number was then decreased to a proposed 3.16 percent increase, which the Board of Finance reviewed in March. In April, Solek told the school board that the proposed budget would include no increase.
“There was no communication to the board even though we approved the 3.16 [increase of the budget],” said Wilson. “There’s always conversation offline with board of finance commissioners, but in the past it always came back to the board to explain to them what those negotiations are like, and that didn’t happen this year.”
According to data from the Connecticut State of Education’s Bureau of Grants Management, Wilson said Bristol is 148 out of 165 school districts in funding at the local level, adding that the city spends $7,748 per student. In comparison to other nearby communities, Southington spends over $9,946 per student and Plainville spends over $10,000 per student.
Wilson said to accept a zero increase without thinking that it will make an impact on education is “implausible.”
“For a couple of years, we made some headway, but now we’re falling back,” said Wilson. “This is our fifth zero [percent increase] in 12 years.”
Board of Education Chairman Larry Amara said the school board makes decisions based on what is best for the children in the community.
“We’re being good stewards of the money that the Board of Finance is letting us have,” said Amara, adding the adopted budget did not include any cuts to programming or layoffs. “Next year, the kids are going to have a solid and productive educational program.”
Amara said overall the board has been able to accomplish a lot for children in the district by using the theory, “scarce resources for alternate uses.” He said the adopted budget will not make a negative impact on students, as it brings back programs, such as interscholastic sports and classroom music instruction at the middle schools—two areas removed from the budget back in 2011-12.
“We’re bringing back programs,” said Amara. “[Sports, band and music] directly affect kids.”
By LISA CAPOBIANCO