Superintendent Dr. Mary Kolek characterized the issue as remaining fiscally conservative while maintaining and improving education in a time of rising fixed costs.
"How do we continue to meet our obligations and the community's expectations of excellence ... while simultaneously meeting the expectation of low overall budgetary increases?" she asked, as an introduction to the first read of the district's budget request.
While the operating budget for the schools was projected to increase 4.3 percent, the capital budget was projected to increase 88 percent, from $1.11 million this year to $2.1 million next year, to bring the total budget increase to 5.25 percent.
Kolek repeatedly explained that the focus of the budget should not be about numbers and graphs, charts and tables, but rather the children served by the schools.
"I was really tempted to watermark the faces of students on every page of the budget," Kolek said at the beginning of the presentation.
She went on to frame the spending as an investment by the community, not only for the enrolled students, but for everyone who goes to the sports events, plays and other extracurricular events. She also noted the increase in worth for all residents on assets such as homes when top schools keep the demand for housing high in New Canaan.
Most of the increases in the budget come from items that the school district can't refuse to pay for, like teachers' salaries, the cost of busing and unfunded mandates from the state.
The largest increase was in staff salaries.
The new collective bargaining agreement with the teachers' union accounts for the vast majority.
Along with the hire of 1.5 new staff members, the total cost of salaries and benefits was projected to increase $1.8 million, from $51 million in 2013 to $52.7 million in 2014.
That increase alone accounts for about 44 percent of the total budgetary increases.
The capital budgets for facilities and technology saw an increase of 89 percent year over year, from a combined $1.11 million to $2.1 million.
The biggest capital projects on tap for 2013-14 include leases for the technology in all schools, parking lot renovation for South School and a new air conditioning unit, also for South School. The increase in projected capital expenditures comprises 27 percent of the budget increase.
The technology capital budget of $702,000 pays for the leases on the schools' existing stable of 185 iPads and laptops, 100 LCD flat panel monitors, 200 thin client devices and their systems.
It also includes the purchase of 180 new iPads, 25 new iMacs, two smartboards and three projectors.
The parking lot at South School is cracked and the curbing broken, according to the Long Term Facilities Capital Plan published in December. Repaving the lot will cost an estimated $300,000. This item was in the 2012-13 budget, but didn't receive funding.
The chiller replacement at South would cost $205,000. The Long Term Facilities Capital Plan stated: "The chiller has far exceeded its useful life and failure is likely in very near future." This item was also budgeted in 2012-13, but was cut.
The third largest cause for the budgetary increase is the decrease in grant money provided by the state.
Since the discovery of more than $4 million in a selectively used district bank account last spring, the district, along with the Board of Finance, has undergone a change in methodology about where that money belongs and how it can be used.
That change in methodology led to a projected decrease of 37 percent, or $817,624 in grant money from last year. That decrease equates to around 19 percent of the projected increase in funds needed for next year.
Kolek concluded her presentation by underlining the importance of the schools in the community life of New Canaan.
"What can we afford not to do?" she asked.
The presentation was met with support from many on the Board of Education, who praised the hard work and diligence of Kolek and her team.
Board member Amy Rochlin asked if hiring a management consultant might pay for itself and then some by finding money-saving solutions.
"The business of running a school is like the business of running a business," Rochlin said. "In this economy, many businesses are bringing in consultants to help find efficiencies. It will create income for us to help our kids."
Monday's presentation marked the official unveiling of a budget that may see substantial changes as the process wears on into the longer days and warmer months.
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