Darien schools request 5.6 percent budget increase
Published 2:01 pm, Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Rising expenses and declining revenues are playing a large part in the school district's budget request as the Board of Education weighs a 5.6 percent increase.
Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone said the most significant factors driving the 2012-2013 budget are salary increases, health insurance, revenue decreases, new initiatives and special education funding.
"We are always looking at making sure we have before our students excellent programs and excellent people and the materials with which our students can learn. We're looking at a range of needs. Over the past few years it has been tight and we are still under that guideline that we are going to maintain and be relatively frugal," Falcone said.
The 5.6 percent increase would represent a $4.4 million increase over last year's $76.3 million budget. However, Falcone said this year's budget increase does not reflect a request for more money to operate the schools. Instead, the increase represents losses in revenue for excess cost grant reimbursements and other revenue streams such as summer school tuition and early learning program tuition.
"We're not necessarily asking for more money to operate school districts. What we're asking for what is what we are looking at our in regards to our revenues," Falcone said. "We get most of the money from the state through the excess cost grant reimbursement."
Falcone also said enrollment projections should remain fairly flat before it begins to slowly decline over the next three to four years. A new contract was teachers was also recently approved which Falcone said was very fair but also enabled the district to remain competitive if a hire had to be made.
One area that always gets additional scrutiny in the budget is the amount of money being spent on each student compared to the rest of the district. Falcone said Darien continues to spend about $1,500 to $1,700 less per student than New Canaan, Weston, Westport and Redding, but remains more in the middle of the pack in terms of spending for special education students.
"In per pupil spending for special education we're kind of right in the middle of the pack but we have we have seen an increase in the percentage of students being identified in the district," he said.
As a way to offset the continually rising costs of education, Falcone said the schools would continue to remain conscious of the economic environment and defer spending in some areas, including field trip buses, textbook replacement, teaching supplies, library books, equipment supplies, physical education supplies, literacy libraries and professional development.
"I do want to note we have a very generous and supportive community. I can't say there is an expectation of funding, but on the other hand we have a very cooperative working relationship with community groups and parent groups to enhance what we do. I look forward to continuing that next year," he said.
Falcone concluded his budget presentation by pointing out how attractive Darien is to parents because of the strength of the school system.
"People come here because we do it right. We want to be able to be proud of what we do and be proud of our community and I think this budget represents what we want to do in a reasonable way. I think we talked about the schools being there for the children and there is unpredictability. If we could lock everything in we wouldn't need this process. We want families in this community to be proud of what we do in the schools and our students," he said.