As Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting crept into its fifth hour, board members closed in on a proposed operations budget that is significantly higher than 4.3 percent increase announced two weeks ago.
The cause for the increase is twofold -- one was a desire for more security features for the schools, a priority for the administration following the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown; and the second an increase in health care, which was using money from its reserves for several years in order to remain flat.
The board agreed on an operating budget of $78,793,274 and capital budget of $2,103,988 for 2013-14. The approved operating budget is $4.27 million, a 5.7 percent increase from 2012-13. The approved capital budget is $988,203 or 88.6 percent higher than 2012-13.
The budget will head to the Board of Selectmen for discussion this week. The school district plans to request a total amount of $80,897,262, which represents a 6.9 percent increase over 2012-13.
At the meeting, the administration offered a plan to purchase several security upgrades, including radio equipment, check-in systems and surveillance monitors, as well as adding new door locks for each door and security guards at Saxe and each of the elementary schools.
They projected the total cost of the upgrades and additions for the rest of the year to be $284,000, roughly half of which they plan to take from the remaining 2012-13 capital budget and half of which they plan to ask for in a special appropriation from the town.
Gary Kass, interim assistant superintendent for human resources, said that districts around Connecticut and the country are all trying to figure out how best to protect their schools.
"I was able to call four security firms that were recommended," he said. "Two forwarded me proposals that might fit our needs. I thought advantages of these were that they are really security experts. They provide initial training and ongoing training. They have experience working in a school setting."
As the talks wound down at the end of the night, the decision was made to include the cost of the security personnel in the FY14 budget, in which it had not previously been. It is this amount, $226,221, which, in part, helped push the budget higher.
"We understand that we would want to do in collaboration with the town a fuller audit where we'd go in the next phase, but we wanted to bring this now to do some quick adjustments and get it in the budget," she said at the meeting.
Health care spending, the other item that bumped the budget numbers up, was framed as a problem that had been pushed off for years. Joe Meehan, director of finance and operations for the district, offered several plans for addressing the health care costs, some of which pushed cost increases off for one more year.
"Health insurance costs have risen 10 to 12 percent each year, conservatively, and we've been masking that by using reserves," he said.
Board member Jim Kucharczyk led the discussion, pushing for asking for the additional costs this year, rather than delay until next year. He said that if the costs were not addressed this year, they would only grow next year.
"If we do nothing, the town will be forced with a $1 million expense next year, and we had a fiduciary responsibility (to address this)," he said. "I don't think we can put our heads in the sand and pretend this is going away."
The board decided to add $833,107 to the budget request for FY14 for health care costs.
"We knew this day was coming," concluded Board of Ed Chairman Alison Bedula.