Hurdles for next budget discussed

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Wed., Nov. 28, 2012
Board of Education Chair Susan Karp looks on as Superintendent Alan Bookman makes his presentation at the budget preview workshop on Nov 27. Photos by Steve Smith.
Board of Education Chair Susan Karp looks on as Superintendent Alan Bookman makes his presentation at the budget preview workshop on Nov 27. Photos by Steve Smith.

Health insurance costs, revaluation and a declining student population were some of the key factors discussed as members of the Town Council, Board of Education and Board of Finance convened to examine influences that will likely affect the 2013-2014 budget for the town of Glastonbury.

Town Manager Richard Johnson said the effects of property revaluation will be different than in the past. In a typical non-reval year, the grand list would normally grow by about .75 percent, or more than $900,000 in new revenue, but the revaluation process will bring that number down, because property values are expected to be lower, overall, from five years ago. Some of that can be offset by an increase in personal property and motor vehicle values. “If we look at the overall change in the grand list, we expect it to decrease 8.8 percent,” Johnson said.

With most of the town operations expected to stay flat, revenue factors are something more of a concern, including an expected decrease in the state’s municipal funding due to the $300 million-plus shortfall in the state budget, but that may not happen until the following year.

“Our understanding is that municipal aid in the current year will not be influenced,” Johnson said, “but that when you look to the following year, that budget shortfall grows to $1.1 billion at the state level, and I’m sure that municipal aid will be under consideration for possible reductions in fiscal year ’14.” Johnson said the town receives about $7.7 million annually from the state – $6.4 million in the form of Educational Cost Sharing – and that a reduction in that number is something the town leaders should keep an eye on.

Health insurance, projected at an increase of 10 percent, will have an impact on both the town and education budgets.

Johnson said there have been ups and downs over the past several years, and the town’s self-insurance plan has helped, along with a high-deductible plan and wellness initiatives. An early projection of a 10-percent hike, Johnson said, could be partially offset by changes in the town’s plans.

Superintendent Alan Bookman said the contract changes in the most recent negotiations with the teachers’ union will result in about a 2.85-percent  decrease in the health insurance costs, for an estimated net of a 7.15-percent increase overall. Bookman said the focus of the school system is going to be on a “21st century education.”

“We are going to prepare our students for the future,” he said. “Not just to be successful in college, but also to be successful in the marketplace – to be employable after college.”

The much-talked-about iPad initiative at Glastonbury High School (wherein next year’s freshmen and sophomores will all receive the electronic tablets) would actually cost less than the planned technology replacement, because the iPads would negate the need to upgrade some of the computer labs at the school, as well as some of the textbook needs.

“We’re looking at a ‘phase-out’ approach over the next three or four years of reducing the number of textbooks as we start migrating toward electronic textbooks and more digital resources,” said Director of Technology Brian Czapla, adding that as part of the seven-year technology replacement plan, he looked at several scenarios to find one that keeps technology current for students that is also fiscally responsible.

Bookman said that due to declining enrollment, he would estimate two teaching positions could be eliminated next year, both on the elementary level, and further reductions in years ahead. He added that the caveat is that an improving economy could bring an influx of students to Glastonbury.

“It all depends on the projections,” Bookman said. “Usually, I have great confidence in the projections that we make. We’re looking at numbers based on people not moving, and people not selling their houses. If that changes, that could change the year that some of these things happen. What is true is that the birth rate has gone down in Glastonbury, in Connecticut, and in the U.S.A.”

Town Councilman Whit Osgood said, after computing that the suggested changes would be a 4-percent education budget increase, that his concern would be that the town and schools should aim for a budget increase of no more than 2 percent. “I think we have to work very hard to keep those numbers as close to two percent as possible,” Osgood said. “I think we need to take our totals, on the town and board of education side, in the context of ‘What can people afford today?’”

Council Chair Chip Beckett said last year’s budget process was “tumultuous,” and that the three boards are charged with doing “what they think is best for the children of Glastonbury,” “set a tax rate based on fiscal analysis” and “set a dollar figure of affordability.”

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