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Schools budget seen rising 6.74%

Published 12:11 pm, Friday, January 10, 2014

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  • Public Schools Superintendent Mary Kolek presents the district's proposed budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year at the Jan. 6 Board of Education meeting at New Canaan High School. The distric is requesting a 6.74 percent increase, which would bring its total budget to $82.5 million. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    Public Schools Superintendent Mary Kolek presents the district's proposed budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year at the Jan. 6 Board of Education meeting at New Canaan High School. The distric is requesting a 6.74 percent increase, which would bring its total budget to $82.5 million. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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The New Canaan Board of Education is proposing an operating budget increase of 6.74 percent, to $82,535,044, for 2014-15.

The district is also asking for $6.3 million, an increase of more than 600 percent, in its capital budgets for facilities and technology projects. The largest chunk of that money, $3 million, would go toward a window project at South Elementary School.

The major driver of the operating budget is the cost of health insurance obligations, which account for about 3.4 percent of the overall proposed increase. The increase comes from the district's decision to fully fund the net expected health insurance claims, which is estimated at $2,627,028. The total benefits cost for the next fiscal year is $14,033,244.

In previous years, the district used its reserves to fund most of that cost, which helped lower the burden on taxpayers, according to Superintendent Mary Kolek. But Kolek has said those reserves are no longer sufficient. Therefore, the district is now seeking to build all health-care costs into the budget.

The schools' 2013-14 operating budget is $77,323,274. The district requested a 5.25 percent increase for the current fiscal year, which was reduced to 3.75 percent.

Other main drivers of the proposed operating budget are three new hires, improvements on information and communication technology and student program enhancements. The budget also covers costs for materials, meeting contractual obligations and about $500,000 in restorative and preventive maintenance.

The $3 million capital project at South Elementary School would replace or renovate windows that are more than 20 years old, according to Nancy Harris, the district's interim director of finance and operations. The design part of the project, which is underway, was funded with last year's capital budgets.

In each of the past two fiscal years, the schools' capital budget funds were just a little over $1 million.

A good portion of the operating budget increase, according to Kolek's presentation to the Board of Education Monday night, is the result of union contract obligations and maintenance projects that were intentionally delayed in the past and are now "coming due."

Salaries make up the largest percentage of the district's budget. In the proposed budget, they would cost $53,560,613, or 64.27 percent.

Several times during her presentation, Kolek emphasized that the numbers ultimately represent "a premier education" system.

"Public education is really what defines this country," Kolek said. "And we do it so well that I think it stands, really, as a flagship for this nation."

Kolek said the staff additions are not due to enrollment. The district anticipates that enrollment will be flat in the next school year. The schools plan to hire a new custodian in order to "improve cleanliness and safety," according to the presentation. The district now has 35 custodians, down from 38 in 2007.

The proposed budget also includes a request for $80,000 to rent a swimming pool for a year. Students who use the New Canaan YMCA pool might be displaced during the facility's renovation project, which is expected to begin in the summer and last 18 months.

Another budget request is for the expansion of the district's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program at Saxe Middle School by hiring another STEM teacher and a new math resource teacher. The estimated costs for the program are $205,096, or 0.2 percent of the total budget. The salary and benefits for each teacher would be about $84,981.

Other proposed capital projects include roof repairs, boiler replacements, masonry restorations, plumbing upgrades, auditorium repairs and tile floor replacements. The district is also planning to increase the number of wireless access points to one per classroom at Saxe and the high school.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson