Board reduces superintendent's request, passes $95.66-million budget
The Board of Education approved a proposed 2014-15 budget Tuesday night that reduces about $560,000 from Superintendent Gary Cialfi’s proposal.
The $95.66-million budget represents a 2.90% increase over the current year’s budget of $92.96 million. The budget divided board members by party line, passing in a 5-to-2 vote. Both Democrats on the board, Rosemary Seaman and Michael Ward, voted against the budget.
The budget will now be sent to the first selectman, and then goes before the Board of Finance and Town Council to be vetted.
The $560,000 in adjustments were proposed by members of the board and included a $325,000 reduction in salaries and benefits, a projected $200,000 in savings due to staff vacancies or long-term leave, and a $35,000 reduction in a curriculum writing budget.The superintendent’s proposal was reduced by an additional $173,000, due to an adjustment in the transportation budget by Business Manager Sean O’Keefe — making total reduction in the superintendent’s proposal about $733,000.
"For the most part the reductions were things we had discussed at length, so there were no surprises," Board Chairman Deborah Herbst told the Times Wednesday.
Herbst said she hopes, as the budget goes forward, that it will stay close to the 2.90% increase.
"I am very committed to class size in this town and I believe our success is due to a wonderful teaching staff and support services we put in place for students," Herbst said.
When Cialfi presented his budget in December, he proposed an increase of 3.69%. Salaries in Cialfi’s proposal increased by $1.52 million and benefits by $1.20 million. The increase included contractual obligations and a few new positions that Cialfi called “essential” to maintaining academic achievement. Some of those positions include a social worker, central registration position, and clerical positions to help with special education paperwork and filing, as well as part-time technology integration specialists.
Herbst commended the superintendent for his work on the budget.
"I felt that is was a fair number," Herbst said Wednesday of the budget. "I also liked the process of how this superintendent presented it and he took great pains to answer questions board members had."
During budget deliberations Tuesday night, board member Joseph Peddle proposed that about $200,000 of savings could be put in a contra account for long-term vacancies. The district does something similar with projected retirements each budget year, Vice Chair Loretta Chory pointed out, voicing support for Peddle’s proposal.
“We’ve never done this in the past,” board member Michael Ward said.
O’Keefe said there was some risk with expecting the $200,000 in savings.
“We are taking a risk and there could be hits we aren’t aware of,” O’Keefe said. “The last two years we’ve seen these savings, so it is fair to think we think we will again, but that may not happen.”
Board member Susan LaFrance made a motion to reduce salaries and benefits by $325,000 in the proposal, which was seconded by Peddle. Peddle cited projected lower enrollment and possible tuition reimbursement as areas that may lead to lower salary/benefit costs.
Herbst said Wednesday that while a reduction in salary/benefits could potentially impact staffing, including new positions proposed by the superintendent, she believes the board can prioritize and work to steer clear of that.
"I think every effort will be made to try to avoid that," Herbst said.
Later in the meeting, Chory made a motion to cut $35,000 from a $107,640 curriculum-writing account. The district had proposed to begin writing curriculum for new science standards that have yet to be adopted by the state. Since the standards are still being vetted, the district could wait on writing the new curriculum, Chory argued.
Seaman and board Chair Deborah Herbst asked curriculum director Linda Paslov if the cut would put Trumbull behind.
“We can postpone a couple projects and prioritize,” Paslov said. “It’s not something I like, but I understand.”
After the budget was passed with the reductions, the board moved on to other business.
“We are going to reduce $733,000 from a budget which is recommended by the superintendent,” Ward said of the budget he voted against.
Board member Jeffrey Donofrio clarified that $173,000 of that had come out of transportation costs.
“Right, I understand that — so half a million then,” Ward responded.
Details on the Superintendent’s proposed budget are currently available at www.trumbullps.org/boe/budget.html