By LISA CAPOBIANCO
After receiving a 3 percent spending increase from the city, the Board of Education approved its Fiscal Year 2017-2018 budget last week.
During a meeting last Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to approve a total budget of $110,361,655, which represents a 3 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
Earlier this spring, school officials initially requested a 7.04 percent increase for next fiscal year, but the city capped this spending increase to 3 percent.
In an effort to reduce the next fiscal year’s budget, the board then approved over a dozen reductions in staffing, including the five elementary school teachers and eight high school teachers.
Board of Education Chairman Chris Wilson said this year marked a difficult budget process for the district.
“This year, we presented to the Board of Finance our needs and they came back with providing us $3.2 million worth of resources we’ve have not had in the past,” said Wilson. “It wasn’t everything we wanted, but we do believe that we can manage this number moving forward.”
Now that the city has approved the school budget, Board of Education Commissioner Jeff Caggiano said the board must effectively manage this new money to “keep the high degree of educational value in this city.”
“With the significant increase we received, which we have not seen in years, I am still at a loss as to why people are being cut before looking into other options, especially when we do not have a direct answer as to how much it will actual cost us to keep our current workforce,” said Caggiano, who voted against the elimination of staffing in May. “We should have been looking at our financial situation weeks to months ago, because this 3 percent increase is no surprise.”
During the meeting, Board of Education Commissioner Tom O’Brien revisited the issue of having a furlough day next year or shortening the number of school days per year as a solution to the staff lay-offs that were approved.
Last September, the Bristol Federation of Teachers voted 312 to 240 against the district-wide furlough day proposed by school officials.
“It needs to happen quickly,” said O’Brien. “We should also possibly think about negotiations if the furlough day is unacceptable, to reduce the number of school days with a corresponding decrease in salaries for all employees.”
O’Brien asked district leaders to start contacting the union to finalize this before June 30, so any lay-off notices that were originally planned to be sent out could be rescinded.
“In light of the number of possible lay-offs, I think it’s inexcusable that we don’t all come together as one team in the district and try and reduce the number of lay-offs, particularly of teachers,” said O’Brien. “The last place we want to impact the district is in terms of instruction.”
Board of Education Vice Chairperson Karen Vibert said when the issue was discussed last year, having one furlough day could save the district “roughly $350,000.”
O’Brien added that number could equal four teachers, “depending on the level they are at.”
“I think it’s in everyone’s interest to do this,” said O’Brien.
Meanwhile, the district still expects to end the fiscal year with a budget surplus of roughly $500,000.
Although the food services budget currently has a projected deficit of $3,500, the district may be able to break even, as seven additional school days were added at the end of the year, said Vibert during the board’s finance committee report.
“We have seven more school days in addition to when we were supposed to end, so we may be able to bring that to a breakeven number,” said Vibert. “That’s phenomenal, considering our history with the food services budget and what we’ve been through.”
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.