School budget increase to fund full-day kindergarten, special programs

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Jan. 24, 2013

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kate Carter initiated the lengthy budget review process on Tuesday, Jan. 22, when she presented her proposed budget to the Board of Education. For the 2013-14 fiscal year, she proposes a budget of $68,123,940, which is a $2,603,979 increase, or 3.97 percent over the current 2012-13 budget.

“The conventional wisdom in budget-building is often to ask for four if you need two, ask for eight if you need six, because there will always be cuts just for the sake of cuts,” Carter told the board. “I have faith that if I again deliver a transparent, straightforward budget that the game of asking for more than what you need - just to secure the minimum of what you need - would be unnecessary.”

The item contributing the most to the increase is the cost of special programs, at $1,358,715. While personnel cost for these programs is roughly $192,000, the program cost is around $1.2 million. In a phone interview on Wednesday, Jan. 23, Carter explained that the program cost also encompasses the expense of sending some special education students to programs outside of South Windsor.

“There are times when the programming needs of students require them to participate in programs outside of the school district,” Carter said. “What we've experienced is not so much a significant increase in the number of those students being out-placed, but the cost associated with the program is increasing significantly.”

The second highest cost is for regular programs, at $566,819, and the lion's share of that figure is associated with a much-anticipated program beginning next school year. “The most exciting element of the budget is the improvement of offering full-day kindergarten,” said Carter.

The cost of full-day kindergarten totals $303,876. Originally $522,785, the cost was offset by personnel and program grant funding offered as an incentive for districts to offer full-day kindergarten. Carter also notes that a full-day program eliminates the need for mid-day busing, yielding a transportation cost savings of $52,463.

The third weightiest category is staff services, at around $566,000. This is higher compared to previous years due to the fact that two years ago, teachers agreed to concessions that will expire after this fiscal year. The 2013-14 year will be the first year of a three-year teachers' contract. “The overall negotiations were fair, I think, and reflective of the tough economic times we're seeing,” said Carter.

Carter was faced with the challenge of presenting a palatable budget while maintaining a safe learning environment for staff and students, adhering to the district's 2011-2014 Strategic Plan (which includes full-day kindergarten), maintaining fiscal responsibility and complying with federal and state education mandates. State mandates include the curriculum switch to the Common Core State Standards, necessitating new math textbooks for grades three and four.

While other town departments have been mandated by the Town Council to submit zero-percent increase budgets, the superintendent and ultimately the BOE may have a difficult time convincing the council to approve a 3.97-percent increase. But while the $2.6 million increase is certain to be met with raised eyebrows, Carter highlighted the fact that the requested increase could have been higher. An entire slide in her presentation cites what she and her administration had to say no to in order to keep the increase as low as it is.

“Certainly I would have preferred to have been able to have an even more robust budget,” said Carter. “Unfortunately, because of these economic times, we weren't able to support all the requests that came in.”

Excluded were requests for new staff and programs to the tune of roughly $230,000. More significant still is the exclusion of a $1.5 million request to support existing programs.

The proposed budget will be receiving further scrutiny at review work sessions held Jan. 29, Jan. 31 and Feb. 5 (with a fourth scheduled for Feb. 7 if needed). The BOE will discuss the budget in a work session on Feb. 12, and will approve it on Feb. 26 for final submission to the Town Council on March. 15.

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