On the evening of January 31, New Fairfield’s Board of Education met for the second time with top administrators to discuss next year’s budget. Led by Director of Business and Operations, Dr. Richard Sanzo, the group walked through the budget, page-by-page, parsing any particulars that needed further clarification along the way. By the meeting’s end, with adjustments in place, the BOE voted to adopt a proposed budget of $43, 435, 443, an overall increase of 1.44%.
The largest adjustment to the budget to bring it up from the former .94% was the unanimous approval to increase the money in the capital improvements budget by an additional $250,150, which will be slated for numerous security upgrades and enhancements. The upgrades include extensive video systems and other improvements that are unnamed for security reasons.
There was a decrease of $37,817 in the proposed payroll budget for an administrative position that had originally been proposed to increase to a 12-month from a 10-month role. Board members debated the wisdom of this decision, but ultimately agreed with Superintendent Dr. Pat Cosentino that there were plenty of reasons to hold off on increasing the pay and responsibilities of the position, which had become contentious in the school community.
The board and administrators moved swiftly through the 80-page budget, with occasional stops. Board members asked for clarification on some grants and Dr. Sanzo explained the various derivations and recipients. They discussed the revenue that is derived from the Early Learning Center and some issues that the school has been having in collecting tuition.
Board members noted a variety of anomalies, which the administrators explained, such as the widely ranging dues and fees that are established for each school. They asked about the estimated bus contract fees and learned that the district will be going out to bid on bussing in a few weeks. They asked about particular Buildings and Grounds items and learned from Director Phil Ross that there will be some security fencing going in place.
The board discussed special education needs at length, during which they learned that between 10 to 15% of all NF students receive special needs services of some kind. Given the large amount of money that is related to outplacement, in both tuition and transportation costs, the board is watching to see if the number of outplacements increases from 16 to 17 students.
Further discussions regarding payroll were had, involving the responsibilities of the new English Language Learner (ELL) and enrichment positions. The board learned that there are 70 students in need of ELL services at this point and the district is providing help for these students, but a full-time person is needed as the number is continuing to grow.
The board wondered why the stipend position amounts had fluctuated quite a bit and Dr. Cosentino explained that a group recently worked together to align the stipends to the place where they should be, as each needed addressing.
The group also discussed that the district is beginning custodial negotiations in late February. The board questioned why the custodian substitute pay increased dramatically and learned that there was a high amount of absenteeism in the last year. The legal fees are decreased in next year’s budget, as there will not be any union contract negotiations next year.
The New Fairfield Board of Education will present their 2019-2020 budget to the New Fairfield Board of Finance on Saturday, March 2.
By Sarah Opdahl