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Tolland School Board Votes on Budget

After some discussion and debate, the board settled on a budget with a 3.78 percent increase.

On Wednesday night, the Board of Education approved a budget with a 3.78 percent increase.

The new budget is for $37,053,533, or a $1,351,305 increase over the current budget.

Originally, Superintendent of Schools William Guzman proposed a budget with a 4.95 percent increase, and he hoped the board would approve this number.

This increase came down to 4.09 percent with a reduction in insurance costs. On Wednesday, the board took a vote at that number and it was rejected with two voting for it and five voting against it. Two members were not in attendance.

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After the vote, the members discussed and debated where to bring the number to and eventually brought it to 3.78 percent. That vote went 4-3 in favor of it.

The board did not decide where the cuts would be made, giving Guzman the flexibility to decide where they would come from.

Guzman said that during the process, he was afraid that the board was going to reduce the number further. He added that in October, the board adopted a strategic plan on what it wanted to concentrate on with this budget.

“This budget doesn’t even address half that stuff,” he said. “It is what it is here.”

The discussion of priorities was a topic for debate amongst the board members and after the meeting, Guzman expressed his thoughts.

“Our priorities?,” he said. “I’d give them a 15 percent budget if we’re talking about priorities. They did their due diligence, that’s all I can ask them to do.”

Guzman will now let Town Manager Steven Werbner know what the board came up with and the process will continue from there.

“We’ll see what the town manager is going to do,” he said. “I don’t know what they’re going to come in at. I’ve gotta see what the town council is going to do. Hopefully people will get upset with this number.”

He added that he figures that the Board of Education number will be reduced and that more positions will probably be eliminated.

On Thursday, Werbner will hold a community conversation on the budget and the budget process. This discussion will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Fire Training Center. All are encouraged to attend. For more information, contact the Town Manager’s Office at 860-871-3600.

Steven Jones February 14, 2013 at 12:57 PM
From what I've heard (but if someone from the BOE wishes to correct this statement, please do so), the BOE used one-time sources of funding or excess savings from their past budget to hire new staff. Either they were willfully ignorant of the fact they would need to ask for a lot more to keep that staff member on, or they decided this would be their plan and would play chicken with the Town Council/Manager and the citizenry during a municipal election year. Of course the school budget, much like the town budget, will need moderate increases to meet the rate of inflation (or cut and hold off on inflation for at least a year or so) so that we can support the services we provide kids and the greater community through school sponsored events open to the public. But in the future we should hold the BOE as well as the Town responsible to utilize one-time funds on a one-time purchase like materials/technology that will not need annual increases to support in the same way hiring new staff does through salary/insurance, which are major segments of the school budget. Either that, or to redirect their savings/new funding that they have no efficient use for towards reducing our towns debt service, or to fun the Emergency Storm Fund.
Tammy February 14, 2013 at 02:42 PM
This is an extremely frustrating environment. It's hard to understand all these required increases, I understand how a budget works, heck I make my money of working a budget for a fortune 500. But to continue with increase after increase is just ridiculous. Why are there automatic increases in salary, why are we not exploring a more cost conscious healthcare plan why are we hiring people on the BOE with one time surpluses that are going to have recurring increase in costs? It all looks like irresponsible spending to me and yet we will now sit down and target the individual programs that we personally don't agree with. Sports, Arts, teachers, etc. instead of fixing the process and implementing items that may not be popular with everyone but in the long run are the right way to go. This process is broken, utterly exhaustively broken.
Donna Allegro February 14, 2013 at 11:07 PM
Well, with the statistics I found available online in the past 8 years we have had a 35% increase in our operating budget for a 450 student DROP in enrollment! This is not a one year blip- we have had a declining enrollment for over 8 years and it is expected to continue! The administration has had ample time to figure out this trend and to find some way to adjust their spending ! At the very least we should be looking at a zero sum increase if not a decrease in the operating budget with those 450 students no longer with us. But no, we have a 35% INCREASE!!! The Town Manager has had ample time to listen to the townspeople's request to please expand the tax base so that Tolland's per capital tax burden is no longer one of the highest in the state! Our pleas have fallen on deaf ears! I'm not spending another minute trying to convince these officials that the well is dry. I will spend ALL my energy in the next few months in simply getting out the vote!
Robert Pagoni February 14, 2013 at 11:32 PM
I sit on the BOE and can answer your question on "automatic" increases. Contracts were negotiated for transportation and with various unions. They were not easy negotiations and were the best we could get a few years ago. Our lawyers and negotiating Board members looked at all of the other contracts that had been recently signed in other towns in CT and that helped to direct our negotiations. If a union and our negotiators hadn't agreed on a contract it would have gone to binding arbitration. Binding arbitration is a direct result of the people of Connecticut getting tired of school unions striking when they didn’t get what they wanted at the negotiating table. So binding arbitration is the law, period. The last time we used this process, the teacher’s union prevailed on all but one point. Additionally we had to help pay for that process. So the “automatic” increases were negotiated in good faith between the unions and the Board in concert with attorneys on both sides.
Robert Pagoni February 14, 2013 at 11:34 PM
To help our “bottom-line” we agreed to contracts that had gains in most of the years. Yes we could have gone to arbitration and would have almost certainly lost according to our lawyers. So the Board has no way to stop these increases. Likewise the transportation contract called for increases over the life of the contract. We are farther down the road in this economic environment and will shortly start new contract negotiations. Our Board members and lawyers will work very hard to save every penny they can for tax payers like you and me. In the end, our lawyers may advise upon reaching an impasse that we go to arbitration because the latest signed contracts elsewhere in the state would favor our position.
Robert Pagoni February 14, 2013 at 11:34 PM
Healthcare is also negotiated. Compare our staff healthcare and what they pay for it against any other school system in the state and I think you will see we are doing better than just about anyone else. I don’t know why you asked “why are we not exploring a more cost conscious healthcare plan?” I have seen this discussion at numerous general Board meetings and committee meetings. It is a hotly contested issue in all union negotiations. Lastly, I am a taxpayer in this town with one child in college and still paying for the other two that graduated from college, I don’t want my taxes to go up. In fact, I wish we could get them to go down! I have no children in the school system right now. I have seen firsthand the decline in our schools over the last 20 years.
Robert Pagoni February 14, 2013 at 11:34 PM
Do we still graduate students? Sure we do! Are today’s THS grads as well rounded and prepared for life after graduation and had the same opportunities for classes and programs that previous students did? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! We have crossed the line of having a school system that allows all of our students to compete on a worldwide basis as equals. We are heading south with no relief in sight. As a Board of Education member, I will do everything I can to reverse this trend. I did not vote for the 4.95% increase last night. I will continue to work within the present non-partisan atmosphere of the BOE and work with the hard working Town Council members. We are lucky in Tolland to have both a Town Council and a Board made up of fine people trying their best to make ends meet and support both school and town needs. If you have specific ideas on how to save money and provide for those needs, send those specific “fixes” to any TC or BOE member.
Jim Hayes February 15, 2013 at 12:37 AM
I usually have a lot to say about almost everything in todays world, especially when it concerns our elected officals. Most of my feelings are about how they lie, steal and only care about themselves. I realize that it is easy for me or anyone to find fault with others. I am not standing in their shoes. BUT I certainly wish that the folks trying to make our town better in so many ways would move to another town and help them. Maybe a town in Iceland.
Donna Allegro February 15, 2013 at 10:44 AM
Amen.
Anthony February 15, 2013 at 12:13 PM
Why is there ALWAYS a budget increase? Instead of just increasing the budget why don't we try and find a better and more efficient way to run things. For once lets try and do the right thing instead of the easy thing.
Robert Pagoni February 15, 2013 at 01:50 PM
Jim if you live in Tolland, why don't you come to a BOE meeting and gives us examples of where we lie, steal or only care about ourselves. We aren't paid anything-all the elected officials in town work for free and are trying their best to help their community. They do that because most people don't want to make the efforts. Anthony at every BOE meeting we are working on ways to save money. How do you suggest we save it? "We" implies you have some ideas. We can't cancel the contracts. Why do you think we are not trying to find better and more efficient ways to run things? Have you sent any ideas to your representatives on the Town Council or the Board of Ed on how to save money that are legal and that are actually practical? The Council and Board try to wring out just about every cent from every dollar? A gut feeling that we aren't doing our best doesn't mean that we aren't doing as good a job as possible. Workable suggestions are always appreciated in these tough economic times. The BOE budget has been past, but may be reduced by the Town Council and by the referendum. The BOE won't be standing around waiting to see what happens. We and I hope now YOU will continue to look for efficiencies to save you and me tax dollars. BP
Steve Lambert February 16, 2013 at 12:47 PM
Thanks Robert for providing background on this issue. I was wondering if we team up with other towns when contracting with the vendors and unions who provide same or similiar services to our respective school systems? Obviously the combined volume would mean for more negotiating leverage. Not even sure if we can legally do that but I thought I would ask. Thanks.
Robert Pagoni February 18, 2013 at 06:43 PM
Steve, Good questions! The BOE belongs to several buying groups through Regional Education Service Centers (Eastconn, CRÈC). Additionally the Board belongs to the Eastern Connecticut Health Insurance Program (ECHIP) with the town and 9 other boards and towns for Heath insurance. It is the first one in the state under a new law that was passed several years ago. The Board purchases cooperatively several commodities with the Town, such as gasoline, diesel fuel, electricity. Lastly, we are now involved with the Town in doing an energy grade investment audit on all buildings with Honeywell (to see how to be more efficient in our use of our heating/cooling systems and electricity). The Superintendent, his staff and the Board members are always looking for ways to stretch yours and my tax dollars. Thanks, Bob
Robert Pagoni February 18, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Donna, If I'm wrong on these numbers let me know. Since 2005/06, the enrollment has decreased by 450 students and the budget has increased 28%, not 35%. The budget in 2005-06 was approved at $28,780,727. The budget for 2013-14 that the BOE approved Wednesday evening is $37,053,533. The increase is $8,272,806. The % increase for that time span compared is 28.7% ($8,272,806/$28,780,727). During this same period of time we have lost/will lose approximately 25 teaching positions. As a result of these losses, class sizes have increased from an average of 20 students per class to over 22 students per class, and the District has lost significant positions in the Art and Music instructional program. The World Language program in the elementary schools was eliminated over 5 years ago. While the general enrollment has decreased, the number of students receiving special education services has increased from 294 to 334. Within this population, the number of students who are outplaced to specialized facilities has increased from 24 to 33.
Robert Pagoni February 18, 2013 at 06:55 PM
There is a corresponding increase associated with these placements. In addition, the State of Connecticut over this same period of time has mandated through law the following services: Positive School Climate (anti-bullying law), Response to Intervention, Common Core State Standards, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, Educator Evaluation and Development System. There have been cost increases to a wide variety of goods and commodities used by the School District that are not necessarily tied into enrollment counts. These include gasoline, diesel fuel, paper, technology resources, negotiated salary and benefit increases, bus contracts, safety inspection costs, etc.

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