Windsor Board of Finance discusses school budget for 2014-2015

By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Windsor - posted Wed., Jan. 29, 2014
Interim Superintendent of Schools Craig Cooke reads from his notes at the Board of Finance meeting on Jan. 28.  Photo by Jennifer Coe.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Craig Cooke reads from his notes at the Board of Finance meeting on Jan. 28. Photo by Jennifer Coe.

Despite the fact that no one from the community came to the Jan. 28 public forum to voice their opinions about the recently-proposed 2014-2015 school budget, the Board of Finance discussion went forward as planned. The budget was proposed by Interim Superintendent of Schools Craig Cooke on Jan. 9.

“The proposed budget represents an increase of 2.88 percent over the 2013-2014 budget,” said Cooke in his budget packet. Windsor saw just over a 1-percent increase last year.


Increasing costs

As the Board of Finance moved through each of the topic headings in the budget breakout, questions were asked. Why, for example, did the budget in “Employee and Personnel Services” decrease this time? Cooke said that one of the reasons is that the town is scaling back the money going toward marketing efforts. “We are continually cutting down our advertising and printing,” he said, citing rising costs.

In what threatened to be a lengthy discussion, Chair Ronald Eleveld asked about the increase in the budget under the heading of “Transportation.”

Windsor will be spending more on student transportation this year, to the tune of about $117,000. “The increase in the runs for special education students is costly,” said Frank Williams, Windsor’s director of business services. Windsor must pay for bussing even, for example, when students attend a local CREC school. “The sending district is required to supply special education transportation for CREC students,” said Williams.

According to information presented, transportation has often exceeded the allocated budget amounts. Cooke feels that this new budget has resolved that problem with the increase. “We continue to seek transportation savings by combining or eliminating bus runs when possible,” he said.

Another issue which Windsor public schools face is the growing magnet school system, which is drawing away Windsor students. Windsor is presently sending more than 500 students to magnet schools, with tuition costs paid by the town. Cooke calls this line item a “major budget-driver” in past years.


Looking for savings

The largest reduction in the proposed budget is in school-wide utilities. “We have the solar projects at L.P. Wilson Community Center and John F. Kennedy School, and we will have one approved at Oliver Ellsworth School,” said Williams. “We have completed the conversion of Poquonock Elementary and JFK to gas as well.” But Williams says that although there is a projected savings, it’s always a “tricky one” to project. “Now we are in a longer cold spell [for example], but, the solar projects are going to produce some significant savings.”


Reductions in staffing

The proposed budget, which will be on the agenda for the regular Board of Education meeting to be held on Feb. 12, is also putting forward the following reductions in staff:

Two teachers at Windsor High School (one business teacher, one to be announced)

One world language teacher at Sage Park

Two teachers at the elementary level

The budget is also requesting that a .2 art teacher, .6 vice principal and a .6 PE teacher at Sage Park be eliminated.
Board member Paul Panos floated the idea to the group of running a budget at a slightly smaller increase, as a form of due diligence. “I would like to see what you would do to get it below 2 and a half percent,” he said.

Cooke explained that when they assembled the budget, it had an increase of about 3.5 percent. “I will say, many districts in our area are at about 5-percent increase,” said Cooke. “I think we did the work to get down to where we need to be to hopefully pass the budget,” he said. “We are making reductions up front – but also addressing board goals.”

The board voted unanimously to move the budget to the agenda for the Feb. 12 meeting at 7 p.m.

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