Superintendent of Schools Mary Kolek unveiled on Monday, Dec. 10, a preliminary 2013-14 budget of $77,760,664, which calls for a 4.3 percent increase from the current fiscal year. Kolek called it, "A very, very, very, very preliminary budget."
The 2012-13 education budget is $74,526,753.
At the Board of Education's budget workshop meeting, nearly all the top-level school administrators were on hand, as were several members of the Town Council and Board of Finance and First Selectman Rob Mallozzi. The principals explained in some detail the circumstances of their proposed spending needs for fiscal year 2013-14.
Kolek talked about the pride the town takes in its school district and the value that the excellence of the schools provides.
"Beyond the numbers, our district has a mission," she said. "We want you to understand why we're asking for these things. When we say competence in this district, we mean excellence. Our students are competing on a global basis. The message of the night to the community and board is that this is a productive investment."
She explained that a strong district benefits the town by having the entertainment of high school football, to increased property values and a vibrant housing market spurred in part by the demand placed on being in a top-performing school district.
While the superintendent proposes cuts in some areas, like facility operation, it sees a 21.3 percent increase for books, equipment and other supplies. This is due in part to the district's application of new technologies, including the purchase of thin clients, which are smaller than traditional computers and process data over a server, rather than a hard drive.
"We're shifting from desktops to thin clients," said Rob Miller, the director of technology. "The upfront cost is the first couple of years, but after five years, you start seeing savings. This year was our first year of entry into thin clients. Next year will be a pretty significant increase. We're going to shift from a five- to six-minute turnaround period of booting up a computer to 60 seconds. When you add that up, it's significant."
While in previous years the specificity of the board's budget proposals have left some officials in town underwhelmed, a thorough Excel spreadsheet prepared by newly hired Budget Director Arlene Riverso resulted in a spontaneous and vigorous round of applause from the Town Council members in attendance.
"What is so extraordinary about what we just saw (the spreadsheet), that's something that's been a sticking point for us for a number of years," said Tucker Murphy, Town Council member and chairman of the education subcommittee. "To have someone to give us that level of detail, I'm telling you, it gave me goosebumps."
The budget-setting season has just begun, and as was frequently mentioned at the meeting, the proposal for education is intended to be only a "point of departure" for talks going forward.
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