BOE sends 2.96% budget hike to Council

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

The Bristol Board of Education met on Thursday, Feb. 7, to discuss and vote on their proposed budget for the 2018-2019 school year.

The board voted unanimously to approve the budget.

The proposal calls for a bottom line of $113,632,693 for FY2018-2019, a 2.96 percent increase of $3,271,038, or 2.96 percent

It will now be presented to the City Council and Board of Finance.

The food services budget continues to garner discuss, and when voted upon, Commissioner Jeff Caggiano was the sole vote against it, saying that he had a “harder time with” it and that a vote on this budget leaves him feeling “a little uneasy”. The vote was on whether or not to accept the $2,922,672 food service revenue budget. The introduction of C.E.P (Community Eligibility Provision) has “been extremely successful” and increased “our revenue by $200,000” said Caggiano.

“I’m not really comfortable where the numbers went,” said Caggiano. “For me, it’s a small budget, it’s not a big deal, my rhetorical question about outsourcing the food services was not one to create or provoke any issues, it’s just that it’s hard for me to understand how we could go from profitable, add CEP, have a retro payment that was back in the profitable area, and now we’re tracking towards $100,000 [in deficit].”

At the fourth budget workshop, Jan. 30, the budget draft was first presented to board members. Caggiano had many questions about the deficit and the food services budget. One of which was whether the Board had considered outsourcing food services. Commissioner Karen Vibert acknowledged his question at the Thursday meeting, saying that outsourcing services wouldn’t save money, because the deficit was due to the pension obligation.

BOE Chair Chris Wilson said at the fourth workshop the “deficit that we’re trending now year-to-date of around $1.6 million” is believed to have been built “into the numbers we’re proposing” for the 2018-2019 school year. There are some areas where savings could possibly offset some of the deficit. For example, the role of deputy superintendent was not filled when Sue Moreau took over the role of superintendent.

At the Thursday meeting, Superintendent of schools Moreau discussed the pension obligation in more depth, saying the pensions being paid are the pensions of cafeteria workers that work a total of 20 hours a week. She reported the food services budget does not include the pension obligation, as per her recommendation. Moreau said, “As you may know, right now, unless an employee works 30 hours a week or more, they are not entitled to health insurance which means they are not entitled to a pension in Bristol.”

“The [food services] budget for the 18/19 school year is $2,922,672, it includes a larger federal reimbursement number and a smaller cash sales income,” said Moreau. “We’ve seen a decline over the last three years of almost $300 thousand in cash sales. We are very fortunate to have the C.E.P that provides students at West Bristol and Hubble (schols) with lunch and breakfast, free of charge to all students; that has increased our revenue this year by $230,000 in federal reimbursement. That is the reason we’re only having a slight deficit. We’ve projected the current year to be $66,000 in deficit, right now, but we just paid a pension obligation of $79 thousand, so you can see that, actually, we would have a surplus if the pension was not in there.”

Jill Browne, business administrator, gave a rundown of the operational budget. Year-to-date 89 percent of the 2017-18 budget has been expended. Browne pointed out there are five months remaining in the school year. At previous budget workshops, there had been a projected increase of 2.97 percent over last years budget, but after further review, it now stands at 2.96 percent Browne explained the change came from an overcharge in the athletic liability insurance and an oversight in a prorated salary for a teacher that joined the staff midway through the year.

During her report, Moreau gave a snapshot of enrollment. As of Oct. 1, 2017, there were 8,314 students enrolled in Bristol schools, or living in Bristol but attending a magnet school. Of the totals, 45.8 percent of those students are categorized as “economically disadvantaged” and 17.9 percent qualify as students with disabilities.

Dr. Sam Galloway, Director of Human Resources, discussed the current enrollment numbers, reported that there was no “late-breaking news”. He did say that he and his team are keeping on eye on certain areas.

One of these “hotspots” had been kindergarten and fifth grade at Edgewood School, where he said “at this point in the year, things seem to have leveled off.” He reported that Hubble is “in a good place”. They are watching grade one at Greene Hills, grade five at Ivy Drive School, but it was reported to have leveled off, as has Mountain View. There was previous concerns about the enrollment at South Side, especially in kindergarten and grade two. Chippens Hill is an area where Galloway said that have to keep an eye on. Stafford School was reported to not have an issue, similarly for West Bristol.

Director of Special Services, Dr. Michael Dietter, that the number of displaced students from Puerto Rico started at 59, but many families have either returned to Puerto Rico or have found other places to live. There are roughly 44 displaced students enrolled in the district.

Comments? Email tmurchison@BristolObserver.com.