Cialfi proposes 3.7% school budget hike

School Superintendent Gary Cialfi presented a $105.3-million budget request for 2018-19 to the Board of Education last week, an amount that would represent a 5% increase over the current $100.3-million allotment. The percentage could change if the Board of Finance agrees to transfer $1.18 million that it placed into a contingency fund earlier this year to the school program account, as the school board unanimously requested. The transfer would boost the current year’s budget back to $101.5 million.

The bulk of the increase comes from salaries, which account for $3.4 million of the $3.8 million requested increase. Included in Cialfi’s request were funds to add the equivalent of 13 teaching positions spread among the schools. Health care costs are also expected to increase 4.79%.

Enrollment is projected to dip by 94 students next year, from 6,774 students to 6,680. According to Cialfi, this decrease is primarily at the middle school level, which will allow for two teachers to be moved to the elementary schools. The projected pre-K-5 enrollment reflects a decrease of 19 students, but Cialfi recommended adding elementary teachers to bring the schools into line with the board’s class size recommendations.

Cialfi said the 2018-19 budget proposal reflected a balance between the current economic climate and residential tax burden and the “unprecedented” competition students face in gaining admission to colleges and the workforce.

“We have an enormous responsibility, an obligation to educate without compromising student needs,” he said. “This requires a commitment to inspire and motivate our students in a rigorous learning environment that includes support for social and emotional development.”

Cialfi also described the efforts the schools have made to increase efficiencies in recent years, including a focus on energy efficiency.

“Trumbull Public Schools is engaged in a comprehensive energy-efficiency plan that improves operational efficiencies, including upgrades to our HVAC and lighting, which reduces our energy consumption by half and saves millions for our taxpayers,” he said. “This aggressive energy-efficiency plan enabled Trumbull Public Schools to spend $62,678 less in the first quarter of the 2017-18 school year than in the first quarter of 2016-17.”

In addition, last year’s total energy cost of $1.6 million was $800,000 less than the $2.4 million annual average from 2012 to 2015, with the district aiming to cut another $400,000 from that total by 2018, he said.

The energy savings come as a result of numerous changes, the most visible of which is the installation of photovoltaic systems at Trumbull High, Hillcrest and three elementary schools. The systems were installed free, and the schools may purchase the energy produced at a discount of roughly 70%. In addition, the district has replaced old boilers with more efficient models, retrofitted with LED lights and installed automated climate systems.

Other savings Cialfi touted include expanding the opt-out program for families that do not use the bus service daily, moving the health plans from Anthem to a state partnership plan at a savings of $760,000, and a continued review and audit of school district operations by outside firms.

“The initiatives have resulted in savings and efficiencies which are testament to Trumbull Public Schools’ commitment to providing a cost-effective, quality operation,” Cialfi said.

Finally, Cialfi provided a list of the school system’s accomplishments in the past year.

“Return on investment is especially critical in making responsible decisions to provide the right resources needed for all Trumbull public school students,” he said. “The achievements of our students and staff are to be celebrated as a primary source of pride for the entire community.”

The accomplishments included Trumbull being rated as the No. 2 school district in the state, behind only Darien, by the state Department of Education. Trumbull also topped its Demographic Resource Group in the 2017 Smarter Balanced Assessment and was ranked No. 9 in the state on the Mastery Test. The Board of Education also received the 2017 Leadership Award from the state Department of Education, and the system earned an award from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education for its energy-efficiency efforts.

“The [accomplishments] provide a clear indication of the level of excellence we have achieved as a result of the common focus and spirit of our school community,” Cialfi said.