TEA joins state plan, council builds in $1-million shortfall

After two months of back-and-forth involving the town’s three major boards, the Trumbull Town Council voted Tuesday night to finally pass First Selectman Tim Herbst’s 2016-17 budget.

Trumbull Education Association (TEA) leadership announced that the town’s teachers and other education employees will be joining the Connecticut Partnership 2.0 Plan — a switch in health care providers that claims savings of $3 million, according to Herbst; however, negotiations with the town remain ongoing, leaving a possible $1-million-plus shortfall on the education side of the budget.

If there is a shortfall, student programs or the number of teachers are expected to be cut from the Board of Education’s budget.

The total budget proposed for the 2016-17 fiscal year was $163.4 million, which was reduced $231,025 throughout the night and passed with unanimous Republican support.

Five of the six Democratic council members abstained from the vote after speaking out about the budget’s potential shortfall — and with arbitration lingering as a possibility.

Herbst told the council members that the savings from the health care switch could reach as high as $3.7 million.

“I want to emphasize this point, as we sit here tonight under the Anthem plan, under the self-insured model, in this fiscal year, there is a significant deficit in the health care plan,” he said. “So to plug that hole and to save money going forward, going to the state health care plan is going to eliminate the current deficit.”

Councilman Jason Marsh was critical of approving a budget that was short on the education side.

He said that originally the Board of Education proposed a budget that included $12.6 million for health care premiums. Somewhere along the way, he said, the Board of Education moved that line item to the town’s side of the budget — to the Board of Finance.

When moved back to the education side, the number was $11.6 million — $1 million less than originally proposed, and hinging on the TEA’s negotiations with the Partnership 2.0 plan.

“My problem is how they arrived at the budget number,” said Councilman Marsh. “We as a body need to plan for the worst and hope for the best, not hope for the best and keep our fingers crossed.”

The total education budget passed was $107.4 million — a reduction from the originally proposed $108.7 that went in front of the council’s finance committee on April 7.

In addition, the TEA's leadership reported that over 80 non-tenured teachers are being laid off by Friday due to the potential budget cuts.

The highest possible number 

Marsh’s opposition to the final number drew Councilman Jack Testani’s ire, and he asked the Democratic councilman, “Are you proposing a reduction Mr. Marsh? Because that’s all we can do tonight?”

Majority Leader Rick Costantini said after the vote that the Town Council funded the education budget with “the highest number possible.”

“I don’t believe in abstaining in votes as the five Democrats did,” he said.