By LISA CAPOBIANCO
School officials have requested a 7.04 percent budget increase for the Fiscal Year 2017-2018.
During a recent special meeting, the Board of Education voted 6 to 3 to approve a proposed regular education budget of $114,422,339, which represents an increase of $6,676,009 or 7.04 percent over the current fiscal year budget.
The proposed budget contains no new programs or staffing.
“It maintains current programming and current staffing,” said Bristol Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ellen Solek.
The board voted on the proposed budget after holding a special workshop meeting earlier this month. At the end of the workshop, which took place on March 4, the board requested Solek and the district leadership team create a list of proposed reductions to get the spending request down to a 3 percent increase. During the special meeting, school officials reviewed and discussed the list of proposed cuts in areas like staffing, after school buses, and healthcare.
“There were some pretty severe cuts that would have had a huge negative impact on the school system,” said Board of Education Commissioner Karen Vibert, who also serves as chairperson of the board’s finance committee.
“The direct cuts to teachers and programs were never a part of our conversation at the first budget hearing and would directly hurt educational benefit,” said Board of Education Commissioner Jeff Caggiano. “This list is reminiscent of the program cuts and school closing threats that were made last year.”
After reviewing the list of proposed reductions, six board commissioners supported a budget request that indicated exactly what the district needs to move forward.
Vibert, who voted in favor of the proposed 7.04 percent budget increase, said the board is not ignoring the city’s request to come keep the requested budget under a 3 percent increase.
“It’s critical that we present to the Board of Finance exactly what we need to move forward without cutting anything,” said Vibert, adding how the hope is to have dialogue with the Board of Finance. “We really feel that it’s important to be transparent, to show…the stakeholders in the city what public education in Bristol needs. We have to work together to find a way to fund education properly for the betterment of the students and for the betterment of the city.”
“I believe that this brazen, unrealistic request will drive a deeper divide between the Board of Finance and the Board of Education,” said Caggiano, adding that the board should consider creating synergies with various city departments like payroll.
Caggiano said he did not vote in favor of the requested 7.04 percent budget increase because the board “did not have enough facts to make an informed decision.” Noting the recent hiring of a new financial director, Caggiano said during the special workshop meeting, the board was not sure if its current budget was tracking toward a deficit or surplus.
He also noted that most commissioners stated a desire during the special workshop to have at least one more budget session.
“There was a clear consensus to have all members available to make recommendations to pare the initial increase in spending to somewhere around 3 percent,” said Caggiano.
As of press time, Vibert noted the possibility of a budget surplus at the close of this fiscal year—although various line items like special education could make a negative impact on that.
“At this point, we seem to be in a good position for year end, but I am always cautious as things can still occur to change that,” said Vibert in a follow-up e-mail.
The Board of Education is scheduled to present its proposed FY 18 budget to the Board of Finance on Tuesday, April 3.