Darien is facing a 3.25 percent mill-rate increase for the 2011 Fiscal year, according to Board of Finance Chairman Murry Stegelmann.

"Even with what we view as pretty substantial reductions, throughout the budget, we're still at a 3.25 percent mill-rate increase," Stegelmann said Friday.

The Board sliced another $325,000 from the Board of Education's budget last Thursday, but was still unable to bring the school's side of the total town budget down to the 3.5 percent increase Stegelmann had originally set as the goal.

The new reductions come from the capital side of the BOE's budget, from which three "Priority Level 1" capital projects have been removed. They are: the renovations to the gymnasium at Middlesex Middle School; the renovation of a portable classroom at Ox Ridge Elementary School; and additional funding for replacing library windows at Royle Elementary School, according to Stegelmann.

"We're proposing not to fund them in the upcoming budget, but to put them off for another year," Stegelmann said. "Because we ended up not bringing the operating budget in at a 3.5 percent increase, that put pressure on us to come up with funds, and that's why their capital budget got reduced as much as it did."

The $325,000 reduction brings the BOE's capital project budget for Fiscal Year 2011 down to $550,000. When Darien Public School Superintendent Donald Fiftal first brought the capital budget forward to the BOE, it totaled more than $1.1 million, and included now-defunct projects like 60 regular lockers at Darien High School, portable classrooms at Hindley Elementary School and screen planting for the stadium field at DHS, according to budget documents.

During a joint meeting between the two boards on Tuesday, April 6, Stegelmann asked Fiftal to explain which of the capital projects were most necessary.

"The auxiliary cafeteria would be first, and the gym renovation second," Fiftal told Stegelmann. "But it's not really a one and a two; it's like a 1a and a 1b. They're both important. But the absolute functioning of the school is more tied-in with the cafeteria."

The $30,000 request to subdivide the high school's auxiliary cafeteria in order to create three classrooms was left untouched during Thursday's meeting. Other capital projects still on track for next year include the previously approved $410,000 allocation for a boiler replacement at Holmes Elementary School, 80 new lockers at DHS, updated time-out rooms in various schools and asphalt crack sealing.

The BOF made no further cuts to the school district's operating budget, but did change the estimated reimbursement rate for the Excess Cost Grant from the state from 70 percent to 75 percent, a move that adds $130,000 in revenue to the budget, Stegelmann said.

Additionally, the BOF has instructed the BOE to go to the RTM to request money from the general fund to put toward the deficit the school is running during the current fiscal year.

According to the district's Director of Finance Richard Huot, the district had a negative balance of $637,000 as of April 1.

"We have stimulus funds of $230,000, which we were made aware of in November, which will offset this deficit," said BOE Chairwoman Kim Westcott. "This deficit, as it stands now, is still in excess of reserve that the Board of Finance carries for our special education overages, which we have not tapped into in the past. It is still an excess, and so the idea is to go to the general fund to fund this deficit, hold some reserves, because we don't anticipate that 10-11 will be any easier with regard to these issues that we're facing."

The BOE has not yet decided how much money it will ask for, but Stegelmann said a $500,000 request may be its best bet during last Tuesday night's meeting.

"If we're going to do it, we might as well take it all out of the general fund," Stegelmann told Westcott. This would help give the school district more of a "cushion for next year," he said.

"It puts the town in an operating loss for this year, but we're already in a minor operating loss," Stegelmann said.

The BOE has not yet decided how much money it will ask the RTM for, but will likely make that decision on April 20.

"This was one of the factors in the fact that we did not make substantial reductions in the operating budget for next year," Stegelmann said.

On the town's side of the budget, the BOF voted to cut an additional $68,000 from the budget.

"It's unfortunate, but we're going to have a mill-rate increase of 3.25 percent," said First Selectman Dave Campbell. "But we're doing everything we can to conserve, to keep tax rates as low as possible. And on the town side, our budget is almost zero increase. It's really the Board of Education side, and that's well documented why.

"It's just a difficult situation we're all facing right now," Campbell said.