Trumbull school superintendent seeks $5 million budget hike

Superintendent Martin Semmel speaks at the dedication ceremony for Mary Ellen Way, in front of Jane Ryan Elementary School, in Trumbull, Conn. Nov. 6. 2020.

Superintendent Martin Semmel speaks at the dedication ceremony for Mary Ellen Way, in front of Jane Ryan Elementary School, in Trumbull, Conn. Nov. 6. 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

TRUMBULL — Meeting the Trumbull schools’ needs will require a 2022-23 budget just under 4.5 percent higher than this year’s, according to Superintendent Martin Semmel.

The proposed operating budget of $117.3 million — a difference of just over $5 million from the current year’s budget — will be discussed at a Board of Education meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Long Hill Administration building. Public participation in the meeting is online only.

In his executive summary that accompanied the 173-page proposal, Semmel wrote that the past few years have presented numerous challenges that the proposed budget attempts to address.

“This collective document and associated presentations outline the real needs of the Trumbull Public Schools,” Semmel said. “As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are challenged to meet the needs of all students from an academic, emotional, and social perspective. We believe our request appropriately meets those needs while respecting Trumbull’s ability to cover the costs.”

About two-thirds of the proposed budget is dedicated to staff salaries. Benefits makes up another 17 percent. According to the proposal, teacher salaries would increase by about 3.5 percent and benefits by about 1.1 percent from the current year.

“We have confirmed through the pandemic that teaching our youth is best when done in-person,” Semmel said in the summary. “The social interactions with peers and adult models help us teach to the whole child and allows for necessary interactions that can be missed through on-line learning. It is no surprise then that the most significant portion of our overall request comes from our staffing needs.”

The 2022-23 budget cycle includes grant money from the federal government, which was intended to help school districts remain open and provide support to students affected by school closures.

“These grant dollars are being employed in Trumbull to reduce/eliminate academic gaps and provide additional support towards overall well-being,” Semmel wrote.

However, he said, the grant funding is scheduled to “greatly reduce” by the end of the 2022-23 school year, and to conclude by the end of the following school year.

“Therefore, it is imperative that our spending plan includes expenses that we anticipate will remain after the grant funding ends,” Semmel said in the proposal. “Our budget presentation will include our plan to taper down from these sunsetting federal grants to avoid a significant funding cliff in the 2023-24 school year.”

Board member Lucinda Timpanelli confirmed that the eventual loss of the federal funding is a concern heading into this budget season, but she was keeping an open mind heading into Tuesday’s budget workshop.

“We are always hoping to provide best budget we can, based on our needs,” she said.

There will be at least two budget workshops — on Tuesday and Thursday this week — with a possible third next week. The board is scheduled to a adopt a budget on Feb. 8 and submit it to First Selectman Vicki Tesoro on Feb. 9.