After two years of zeros, Supt. of Schools James Agostine is asking for a 3.99 percent spending increase for Monroe Public Schools. He presented a $53,486,069 budget proposal to the Board of Education at its meeting Monday night.
Agostine said it is actually a 2.93 percent hike over last year, because enterprise funds and a reduction in the medical insurance reserve allowed the district to increase spending by 1.03 percent over what was approved. The current budget is $51,434,738.
One concern expressed by Agostine is the uncertainty over how much Monroe's state Educational Cost Sharing Grant will be. It accounts for over 12% of the budget. There is no way of knowing what the legislature will do before Monroe approves its budget, according to Agostine.
The superintendent said other unknowns are special education costs and unfunded mandates for staff training, adding consortium rates for energy costs are not set.
"Can we prepare for the nuclear option," Board of Education member Mark Antinozzi asked. "What will happen if we don't get that money from grants? And Gov. Malloy says, 'Gee whiz, I can't afford that.' Are we prepared for that option?"
"No," Agostine replied. "In that case, we would have to go back to the town and ask for the difference."
The proposal does not include a new media specialist. Agostine said he decided to hold off this year. Instead, the district is pursuing full day kindergarten. Agostine plans on seeking to enhance programs steadily every year.
The budget plan includes funding for full day kindergarten and Agostine says a mix of cuts and increases actually equates to $144,812 in savings.
To go to full day K, Agostine proposes reductions of a 1.5 special education position for grades 6-12, a teacher for grades 6-8, a .2 school psychologist , a .5 technology integrator for K-5, a 1.2 kindergarten intervention position, and three non-certified staff positions. Four-and-a-half to 5.5 teaching positions would be added, depending on how many children enroll in kindergarten, Agostine said.
If the Board of Education decides to keep the current half day kindergarten program, Agostine proposes staff reductions of a .5 teacher for the hearing impaired, a Jockey Hollow social studies teacher, a SPED for Masuk High School, a .2 psychologist and 6 non-certified positions. It would add up to $338,714 worth of cuts.
Costs & Savings
Major cost increases in the budget proposal include $790,480 for medical insurance, $501,824 in salaries, a $156,075 negotiations reserve (There will be four contract negotiations: teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries and custodians) and $267,208 in transportation costs.
Agostine said a portion of the transportation costs are to make up a shortfall for All-Star Transportation in the current budget because, though it was the lowest bidder, the bid came in higher than anticipated.
Agostine said the district strives to reduce budget costs through contract negotiations and energy savings, while keeping in mind the primary goal of supporting all students to meet the new national Common Core State Standards for English/language arts and mathematics.
Eleven certified retirements will lead to savings for the district. Agostine said a cap in what the town pays for retirees' health insurance will save the district an estimated $5 million over the next two decades. It was negotiated in the latest teachers contract.
Prior to the existing retirement benefit sunsetting, the town will have to make one last payment of $115,200.
Should the town approve a contract with Honeywell, the superintendent said the school district can realize energy savings on upgrades to its buildings, which includes a slew of projects such as switching Masuk High School from oil heat to natural gas.
Other details in Agostine's presentation were:
- Projected enrollment continues to decline. It is expected to fall from 3,481 students in 2012 to 3,361 in 2013.
- No capital projects are included in the budget proposal, but it has $44,000 for facilities. Agostine called it a "drop in the bucket" over what the district should spend to maintain "a quarter-of-a-billion-dollars" in facilities.
- With two consecutive years of zero-percent increases, Agostine said Monroe Public Schools are not keeping up with the rate of inflation.