Present: Alvarez (Chairman), Clark, DeSalvo, Dolan, Mazzucco, Yonkers
Also present: Redding Board of Selectmen: Pemberton, Karvelis, Thompson
Redding Board of Education: Ajavananda, Gaspar, Irwin, Sobel
There was an audience of about 25 members of the public, a representative of the Redding Pilot and two videographers
Chairman Alvarez called Board of Finance meeting to order at 7:32 pm. Mrs. Pemberton called the Board of Selectmen to order at 7:32 pm. Dr. Gaspar called the Board of Education to order at 7:35 pm.
Redding Board of Education: Dr. Gaspar provided an overview and explanation of the proposed budget for the Redding schools. The proposed budget is $21,356,502 which represents a reduction of 1.79% over the current year budget. The presentation highlighted the budget priorities, the budget changes over the past few years, budget drivers, changes in staffing, enrollment decline, changes in the administration of the Special Education program, and a comparison of the budget with other area towns.
Dr. Gaspar demonstrated how the decline in enrollment was being addressed. The staffing levels have decreased over the last few years and will continue as the enrollment continues to decline. He noted that expenses have increased due to inflation and the introduction of some new programs, such as the Spanish program in the elementary school.
The presentation was followed by questions by the Board of Finance members and members of the public. Mr. Alvarez asked if the board was doing any planning for the future when the total enrollment for JRMS & RES reaches 650. He suggested that downsizing of the physical plant should be considered. Dr. Gaspar indicated that each of the schools is built for children of specific ages and it would be difficult to combine all students in one of the facilities. The Board of Education does not have plans now, but will be discussing the physical facilities relative to declining enrollment.
The topic of declining enrollment was discussed further. Dr. Gaspar stated that the decline may be cyclical and the projections are only valid five years out. Changes in the economy could reverse the trend at any time. Mr. DeSalvo commented that if the Georgetown project moves forward it could have a major impact on school enrollment.
Special Education costs were discussed. Dr. Yonkers had questions regarding the proposed interim consultant in the budget. School Superintendent Josefsberg stated that the consultant will assist the team in the transition from a two-person management team to the new structure with one director and one supervisor to be shared between the Easton and Redding schools.
Cost per pupil was discussed. Dr. Gaspar noted that some comparisons are difficult to make since the Redding schools are K-8, not K-12. The cost per pupil for Redding is on the high side compared to other area towns, but just below Weston and Darien. The comparison with the Easton schools was discussed. The Easton school budget does not include expenses for liability and unemployment insurance, workmen’s comp, and building maintenance. These costs are included in the town’s budget. In addition, Redding has more educated and more experienced teachers, health insurance costs are higher, operational costs are different and there are program differences. Redding offers some programs that are not offered in the Easton schools.
The State mandated Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) was also discussed. School Director of Finance Sullivan explained that the legislation mandates that the Town of Redding spend as much next year as it did this year on education, the cost includes the Redding schools and the Redding portion of the Region 9 budget. Excluded from the calculations are capital costs and debt service, and there is an allowance for a decline in enrollment of $3,000 per student with a cap of ½ of 1%. The current proposal for the Redding schools and the proposed Region 9 budget will be close to the threshold. The penalty for not meeting the MBR and the relationship with the Connecticut Education Cost Sharing (ECS) money was discussed.
Edward Davies: Mr. Davies spoke of his experience with establishing a pre-school international school in New York and of the importance of having schools for the youngest of the children. He suggested that an unused portion of the elementary school could be a good place for an early childhood program.
Gene Connolly, Meeker Hill: Mr. Connolly asked that the budget follow the same line as the decline in enrollment, that the Board of Education prepare a 5-year plan for reductions that reflect the decline in enrollment, and that they consider closing off a part of the school, consider renting a portion of the school, or combine the schools in one building.
Region 9 Board of Education: Mark Lewis, Region 9 Board member, reported that the Board of Education had not finalized their budget, but would do so at the March 18, 2014 meeting. The discussions of the budget are underway and the current proposal is for a budget increase of 1.405%. The Redding portion of the increase is a reduction of 0.04% and the Easton portion is an increase of 3.16%. He noted that enrollment for the next 2-3 years is flat, then the declining enrollment of the lower schools will hit the high school. The budget is being prepared with consideration of that upcoming decline. The taxpayers will also be asked to vote on a separate issue, the repair/replacement roof project.
Board of Selectmen: Mrs. Pemberton presented the major changes in expenses and revenues for the budget. The proposed budget is for $13,582,957 which represents a 0.86% increase over the current year budget. She noted that the proposed budget supports the quality of life through continued improvement of Town services, maintenance of 93 miles of local roads, Single Stream Recycling, Park & Recreation and senior programs, collaboration between the schools and Police Department to address school safety, and supports the Mark Twain Library.
Areas of increase in the budget include medical insurance, contractual Police Department salaries, pension contribution, interest on short-term borrowing, Mark Twain Library contribution, contractual Highway Department salaries, and fuel costs. Areas of decrease include Capital Nonrecurring Account, bond interest, legal fees, Park & Recreation program costs (reflecting decline in student enrollment), disposal of recyclables, leased equipment, contingency reserve, and unemployment compensation costs.
Capital Projects: Mrs. Pemberton stated that a new 4-year plan for roadway reconstruction is being proposed, with a cost of $1,930,000. The plan is to rework 5 miles of road each year for the next four years. In addition, the communication tower at the Police Department is structurally unsound and needs to be replaced. The tower serves the Police Department, Communication Center and all three fire departments. The estimated cost to replace the tower is $300,000.
Board of Finance members asked questions regarding the new contract for the Police Department. Mrs. Pemberton indicated that the new schedule will reduce the amount of overtime and will provide greater flexibility in scheduling. Police Chief Fuchs commented that the overtime is needed when call volume or incidents require additional manpower, to cover leave/sick time, and to cover the training component.
Pam Robey: Ms. Robey read a letter from resident David Morgan in support of the funding for the Mark Twain Library.
Another person spoke in support of the Mark Twain Library, commenting on the importance of library as a valuable resource.
Hilda Rhodes, Archers Lane: Mrs. Rhodes also commented on the importance of the Mark Twain Library and the need for the Town budget contribution.
Motion: move that the Redding Board of Finance meeting be adjourned. Dolan, Mazzucco. Approved. Unanimous.
Dr. Gaspar adjourned the Redding Board of Education meeting.
Mrs. Pemberton adjourned the Board of Selectmen meeting.
The meeting adjourned at 9:31 pm
Mary Maday, Recording Secretary