Darien finance board looks to cut school budget
The Board of Finance asked no questions about the presented and accepted Board of Selectmen 2013-14 budget at the Tuesday, March 5, meeting, although it had multiple questions about the proposed Board of Education budget.
Board of Finance Chairman Liz Mao told the audience that if the board accepted both budgets without making any cuts, the town would face a 6.62 percent tax increase.
"Personally, I don't feel that's acceptable this year in the town of Darien," Mao said, adding that the Board of Finance attempts to keep the tax increase below 4 percent. "You should expect us to make some cuts."
Mao said she has considered cutting are the capital plans and maintaining the student activity fee at the high school.
The Board of Education proposed removing the fee that families pay to partake in school athletics. Board of Education Chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross told the Board of Finance that the fee was put in place years ago to help lower the Board of Education budget, but that most of the board members who implemented the fee felt it was only temporary.
"It was being taxed on high school parents," Hagerty-Ross said. "We have looked at it for the past couple of years to try and take it out of the budget, and this was the year that we felt we could do that."
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson presented the proposed 2013-14 selectmen's budget of $42,660,699, which carries a 5.99 percent increase over 2012-13, to a standing-room-only crowd.
The presented budget was broken down into discretionary and nondiscretionary items; contractual obligations fell under non-discretionary.
The personnel costs make up the greatest percentage of the proposed budget with $12,189,656, or 41.99 percent, being distributed to wages for the 161 town employees, health care, pension, FICA/Medicare and non-wage contractual obligations.
Nondiscretionary items, over which the selectmen have no control, according to Stevenson, account for 92.2 percent of the total selectmen budget.
As for the Board of Education, Hagerty-Ross told the Board of Finance that the 4.05 percent increase in the 2013-14 budget is being driven in response to events such as the latest storm and the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and the ever-increasing enrollment in the schools.
Hagerty-Ross discussed the needs for generators in the schools when they are being used as shelters during storms. The schools can and have acted as shelters for the town.
However, Mao asked if it were possible to rent generators when needed instead of purchasing them.
Hagerty-Ross explained that when the time comes that generators will need to be rented, there would be few available.
In terms of enrollment, the Board of Education is speculating that there will be an additional 60 students in Darien for the 2013-14 school year, a projection that Mao considers to be "aggressive."
The enrollment projections normally have been accurate, said Superintendent Steven Falcone.
The board researched what the maximum capacity of the schools are and determined that there is "little to no room to absorb any more students into some elementary sections," according to Hagerty-Ross.
She said more information concerning future building projects will be brought before the Board of Finance if they are found necessary.
The implementation of the state-mandated teacher evaluations and the upcoming Common Core State Standards were called into question.
While the teacher evaluations will take effect in June, the new Common Core State Standards won't take effect until spring 2015, which drew questions as to why the board was funding the curriculum change so early.
"It's about curriculum that we need to be prepared for that following year," Falcone said.
Hagerty-Ross added that the cost of the curriculum is slightly more, because of teaching tools that need to be purchased to align with the new curriculums, such as new non-fiction books.
The change in curriculum is being done over the next two years, according to Hagerty-Ross.
"It's about curriculum change to rev up to the Common Core State Standards," Hagerty-Ross said.