New Canaan worries Hartford’s impact on budget
Updated 10:00 am, Friday, February 10, 2017
NEW CANAAN — Despite a school budget with “no surprises,” town officials still had questions.
“I know that one of the things people don’t like in municipal budgeting are surprises,” Superintendent Bryan Luizzi said in addressing the Town Council and Board of Finance on Feb. 7 in a first group review of the school budget. “So we look to build in sustainability and long-term predictability wherever we can,” Luizzi began his presentation.
The Board of Education’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017-2018 budget is up 2.76 percent to $88,618,405.
The lion’s share of that budget — $57.2 million, or 82 percent of the total — comes from teacher’s salaries driven, in part, according to Luizzi, by contractual increases from negotiations with teacher’s associations and increased staffing.
According to the budget, a district-wide ESL teacher and case manager would be hired to help restructure the current English Learner Program headed by the world language administrator, who serves 52 students on a case-by-case basis.
A mathematics instructional specialist and custodian would be added to Saxe Middle School, two pre-school paraprofessionals would be added, and staff to teach six additional courses at New Canaan High School, intended to accommodate the district’s largest class of 372 students as they move into ninth grade in the coming year. In total, the cost of new staff would remain relatively low, at $245,270.
Among the budget’s largest capital requests, district-wide playground restoration ($100,000) and engineering services ($103,000), gym floor replacement at West Elementary School ($125,000) and masonry repair ($250,000), playground equipment ($200,000) and corridor ventilation ($120,000) at Saxe Middle School.
“When we build our budget, we don’t just take the numbers we have and roll them forward. We really assess every year what our needs are,” Luizzi said, in reference to a $79,351 decrease in supplies, down 5.41 percent from last year.
Moynihan specifically pointed to Gov. Daniel Malloy’s recently released plan to charge cities and towns more than $400 million annually for teacher’s pensions. How that $400 million will be allocated remains unclear, but it’s likely that, based on Malloy’s suggestion that municipalities begin covering a third of the pension costs, wealthier towns that pay teachers more would be hit harder. Moynihan estimated a bill in the ballpark of $4 million, based on the nearly $10 million paid by the state toward New Canaan pensions in Fiscal Year 2016-2017.
Moynihan also pointed to number, estimated around $9 million, of Board of Education bonds also not mentioned in the budget.
“The town has $130 million bonded in debts, we pay $12 or $13 million a year in principal repayment and interest. The Board of Education portion of that is about 70 percent, so about another $9 million that it costs to operate the schools every year that’s paid. So the overall budget is more like $102 million, $104 million when you look at these other items that are paid. I wonder if people keep those figures in mind,” Moynihan said.
As for the governor’s plan, according to Liuzzi, however, too much remains unknown to adequately address pension costs at this point.
“As you know, it’s very preliminary and what we have are sort of some early press releases the governor sent out prior to actually presenting the budget,” Luizzi said. “It’s something we’re watching, something we’re talking about.