Educators approve 2.79% budget increase

Board of Finance to review proposed $99,933,178 budget

Trumbull's Board of Education reviews the superintendent's proposed budget at Tuesday night's meeting.
Trumbull’s Board of Education reviews the superintendent’s proposed budget at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Trumbull’s Board of Education voted on Tuesday evening to reduce the $100,310,295 budget presented by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gary Cialfi last month by $377,117 — a .38% cut that resulted in a proposed $99,933,178 budget for 2016-17.

Cialfi’s original proposed budget increase was a 3.18% more than the current year’s $97,216,380 bottom line. The board-approved budget, which will be vetted by the Board of Finance over the next several weeks, whittled that proposed increase down to 2.79%.

The board’s five Republican members worked as a bloc, proposing seven reductions and voting together to support them, while the two Democrats questioned the rationale and voted in opposition to each.

“This is a challenging year,” Republican member Jeffrey Donofrio said.

As the Republicans kept offering cuts, Democrat Mike Ward, a retired principal and a 12-year board member, shook his head.

“You’re dictating to Dr. Cialfi,” he said. “Let’s move on and let him make the cuts.”

The two largest reductions were $100,000 of the proposed $198,000 set aside to eliminate pay-to-participate fees and the elimination of two of the three proposed elementary level technology integration specialists, which created a saving of $150,000.

Cialfi seemed taken aback by newly elected Republican member Suzanne Testani’s proposal to cut the technology integration specialists.

The six elementary schools currently share three such specialists. The proposal was to provide a full-time specialist — a tech-savvy experienced teacher — at each school to teach classroom teachers how to take full advantage of their Smart Boards, Google Chromebooks and iPads to present the curriculum to students.

Despite Testani’s explanation of her rationale, Cialfi remained perplexed, commenting that this “creates an inequity,” and noting that the district would continue to lose significant time as the specialists travel between buildings.

Fees persist

Looking ahead at the 2015-16 school budget last January, First Selectman Tim Herbst called for an end to pay-to-participate fees for activities, including high school interscholastic sports, the high school’s annual musical production, and the Golden Eagle Marching Band.

Already a zero sum budget, he reduced it enough that the phaseout period had to be lengthened.

This year’s cut of $100,000 from the 2016-17 budget extends the fees’ persistence even longer.

Curriculum cuts

The most striking of the smaller cuts was a reduction of $20,000 of a $144,836 proposed increase for curriculum development.

This has been an historic source for cuts, particularly by the Board of Finance.

What’s new this time around is the presence of Dr. Jonathan Budd, the district’s director of curriculum, and his plan to jump-start the too-long neglected curriculum refreshment process.

When Testani proposed the cut, she commented, “It provides Dr. Budd the support needed.” Lucinda Timpanelli, a newly elected Democratic board member, commented, “I don’t like to reduce anything to do with our students or our programs.”

Cialfi picked up, and asked Budd whether the proposed amount is sufficient.

“Every dollar will be well spent,” Budd said. “We will work with what the board gives us.”

He added that he is playing catch-up while trying to meet changing state standards.

Fewer coaches

Another cut was $21,000 from assistant coaches.

The superintendent asked for eight, all to enhance safety, but was given only four, who he said will be for boys and girls swimming and cross country.

“An additional coach at the pool makes the environment safer,” he told the board.

All seven cuts were made to discretionary line items — the 6.61% of the proposed budget the administration has available after funding mandatory items — salaries and benefits, transportation, energy, utilities, and out-of-district tuition for special education students.

These discretionary items fund textbooks, software, supplies — the things students use in their classrooms — yet they are the easiest to reduce.

Donofrio added that the board will “continue to look for savings in the benefits lines.”

Same number of teachers

No teaching positions were eliminated in the proposed budget, despite Republican members who acknowledged that elementary-level enrollment is projected to decline.

This is in contrast to the current budget, which eliminated five teachers, only to have to add back four when school began and the projected declines did not materialize.

These post-approval additions, Cialfi noted, remain a matter of concern due to the budget’s tightness.