Present: Alvarez (Chairman), Clark, Dolan, Mazzucco. Dr. Yonkers and Mr. DeSalvo were absent because of previously scheduled travel plans.
Also present: about 50 members of the public, a representative of the Redding Pilot, and Kim Ajavananda and Melinda Irwin, members of the Board of Education.
Chairman Alvarez called the Special Meeting on April 15, 2014 to order at 2:06 pm.
DISCUSSION AND ACTION ON BOARD OF EDUCATION 2014-15 BUDGET
Mr. Alvarez provided a spreadsheet, Schedule of Proposed BOE Budget for the Years 2015-2023, with the projected budgets based on 99.5% of the prior year amount, illustrating amounts generally needed to meet the spending level necessary to qualify for state aid, “MBR.” That schedule indicated the 2014-15 BOE proposed budget, meeting the MBR requirement, of $21,396,502 for 1060 students, will decline to $20,555,471 for only 659 students(as projected by the Board of Education) in the 2022-23 fiscal year. The cost per pupil would increase from $21,397 to $31,192 over that period.
Mr. Alvarez summarized his discussions with Board of Education Chairman Jess Gaspar regarding the proposed 2014-15 budget. He and Dr. Gaspar were in agreement that establishing budgets to meet the MBR each year in the future would be unsustainable and that steps must be taken collaboratively to address the MBR issue. He and Dr. Gaspar will work together to formulate a working committee to plan on addressing the projected decline in enrollment.
Mr. Alvarez noted that legal counsel has advised against falling below the MBR by a small amount, because state education officials, with whom we may have to cooperate in devising a solution, might regard the token reduction as provocative. If we were to reduce the Board of Education so as to eliminate state aid entirely, that would probably cause fewer repercussions. Mr. Alvarez suggested getting a Declaratory Judgment on whether Redding would qualify for a deviation from MBR for “god cause” as permitted by statute. This would be superior to an application for a “waiver” because it would enable the town to take an appeal to court if necessary, and because, if the town instead sought a waiver it would first be obligated to fall below the MBR. Applying for the Declaratory Judgment would not require falling below the MBR.
Members of the Board of Finance also noted that, falling below the MBR is not a crime but rather the failure to qualify for state aid. Since the Board of Finance would fund Redding schools well, even in light of a possible budget reduction and loss of state aid, members doubted whether the state would have any grounds for taking action against the town, in addition to withholding state aid.
Members also noted that the $300,000 reduction previously recommended was not an arbitrary figure, as some people have suggested. Instead, it reflected the first step in a three year plan to gradually bring the Redding education budget in line with the average per-pupil cost that currently prevails among other DRG A schools.
Members also commented on the need to work with the Board of Education on an accelerated timetable, so that last-minute decisions on their budget could be avoided.
Dr. Gaspar indicated to Mr. Alvarez that the Board of Education was asking the Board of Finance to rescind their motion for a $300,000 reduction in the operating budget, has agreed to form a committee to address the declining enrollment, will seek support for changes in the MBR legislation with the state legislators, and will work throughout the year to reduce costs & find cost savings with the potential for return of unexpended funds to the Town of Redding.
Further discussion of the MBR and the Excess Cost Sharing Funding followed.
Motion: move that the Redding Board of Finance rescind the Board of Finance motion from the April 7, 2014 meeting for an additional reduction of $300,000 in the Board of Education budget, and instead approve the Board of Education’s budget approved on April 1, 2014 for an appropriation of $21,396,502 which represents a 1.6% reduction over the current year budget. Mazzucco, Dolan. Approved. Unanimous.
Kim Ajavananda, Board of Education member: Mrs. Ajavananda thanked the Board of Finance for rescinding their motion and for recognizing that the MBR issue needs to be addressed collaboratively.
Melinda Irwin, Board of Education member: Dr. Irwin thanked the board for their action and noted that the decline in enrollment is happening throughout the state, but Redding was the only DRG A school with a decrease in budget.
Lew Goldberg, Dayton Road: Mr. Goldberg spoke of the importance education plays in Redding and the decision of what is best for the Town of Redding lies with the voters.
David Callet: Mr. Callet asked about the impact of the increase on his tax bill. He added that the real impact is on the value of his property.
Jeff Fligelman, Pocahontas Road: Mr. Fligelman commented that more reductions would impact the quality of education in Redding and that has a direct impact on property values.
David Bohn, Umpawaug Road: Mr. Bohn commented on his concerns about the constant increases in the education budget. He and his wife home school their children for a fraction of the cost.
Barbara Holdridge: Mrs. Holdridge is a Wilton resident, but owns property in Redding. She commented that she has consistently supported education in Redding.
Kim Thompson, Old Stagecoach Road: Mrs. Thompson thanked the Board of Finance for their action and for balancing important needs of all the residents.
Susan Romano, Starrs Ridge Road: Mrs. Romano objected to Mr. Alvarez’s comment regarding the potential of increased costs for special education.
Ron Wendschuh, Deer Spring Road: Mr. Wendschuh suggested that copies of Mr. Alvarez’s spread sheet should have been made available to all present. He also noted that legal counsel could have been present for the meeting via a conference call.
Vanessa Alward, Cross Highway: Mrs. Alward commented that Redding does not offer residents things like a pool, teen center, or irrigated fields, but they do offer good schools that attract new residents.
Mr. Mazzucco suggested that the Board of Finance meeting scheduled for April 28, 2014 might not be needed. Finance Director Gniadek will provide board members with the information needed for consideration when setting the mill rate in advance of the May 6, 2014 budget referendum. The Board of Finance will meet following the budget referendum to set the mill rate, assuming the budget is successfully passed.
Motion: move that the Board of Finance meeting for April 28, 2014 be cancelled. Mazzucco, Dolan. Approved. Unanimous.
Motion: move that the Redding Board of Finance meeting be adjourned. Dolan, Mazzucco. Approved. Unanimous.
The meeting adjourned at 3:18 pm
Mary Maday, Recording Secretary