Faced with proposed budget cut, School board waits for town action

Facing a 2013-14 budget that was cut $1.8 million and waiting for approval on a few major bond items, the Board of Education is asking the town boards to stop dragging their feet, particularly on approving the money for security upgrades at the schools.

The Board of Education discussed concerns Tuesday night about the timeline the Board of Finance and Town Council has to discuss and take a vote on three items: a $692,000 bond for technology upgrades, $832,000 for security upgrades and a bond for athletic field renovations. On Feb. 26, the school board approved sending the three items to the Board of Finance and Town Council, but the items have yet to come up for a vote at either the council or finance board meeting.

“I want to start security and safety upgrades tomorrow,” board member Tom Kelly said.

On March 1, Trumbull Superintendent Ralph Iassogna sent a letter to both the Town Council and Board of Finance chairs, as well as the first selectman, on behalf of the Board of Education, asking that the council and finance board meet on the three items as soon as possible.

“They respectfully seek an expedited meeting as your action on the following items will have a direct impact on the Board of Education’s ultimate allocation of its 2013-14 monies provided upon by the town,” the letter said.

Iassogna said he didn’t receive any response for 13 days. The one response he did receive was from Director of Finance Maria Pires, that said that all three items would fall under an umbrella of capital improvement plan.

Kelly took issue with the security upgrades becoming a bonding issue. Kelly argued that the school board requested security upgrades be paid for through a supplemental appropriation, not a bond. He said that can be an important distinction because if the finance board fails to approve a supplemental appropriation request or a bonding request, both requests still proceed to the Town Council, which has the final say. But the Town Council would need 14 votes to override the finance board if they do not approve a bonding request, but just a simple majority to override the board if it does not approve a supplemental appropriation request.

“I don’t think the process was followed,” Kelly said. “There is a charter in this town and it needs to be followed.”

Board Chair Stephen Wright agreed that security upgrades should be paid for through a supplemental appropriation.

“Why would you want to bond security upgrades?” Wright said.

Budget impact

With the current proposed cut of $1.8 million to the Board of Education budget, staff reductions are possible, the superintendent said. While the schools are discussing moving to a self-insurance model to save money next year, those savings won’t be realized until the following year, members said.

The Board of Education, by state law, has to inform all non-tenured employees by May 1 if there is a possibility of staff reductions in the next school year. The Board of Education wants to avoid layoffs of people and loss of programs and discussed doing so by using a special account, set up through state statute, that has about $874,000 to offset the reduction. But if the town doesn’t approve one of the bonding items or security, the board will have to consider using $874,000 to cover the items.

A few board members expressed some frustration that they don’t yet know if the items will be approved, so they can’t move forward in discussing how to handle the budget reduction.

“They’ve got us up against a wall,” Deborah Herbst said.

The Board of Finance is scheduled to meet on the technology, field improvements and security items April 11. The Town Council wouldn’t meet until after the May 1 deadline, Iassogna said.

Wright said he spoke to First Selectman Timothy Herbst about the importance of the items going up for approval as soon as possible and he is confident they will know by May 1. He echoed a similar concern that safety upgrades were of particular importance, citing not just the Newtown incident but school violence around the country.

“They need to get moving,” Wright said.