School budget pleases town officials

SEYMOUR — Presenting a proposed $31.1-million school budget to the Board of Finance on Feb. 13 proved to be an easy sell for school officials.
That’s because, according to Board of Education Chairman Yashu Putorti, the board is not asking for anything outrageous and pretty much stayed within the range that First Selectmen Kurt Miller had requested.
“What we’re asking for is very reasonable,” Putorti said during a budget workshop conducted with the finance board at Town Hall.
The proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year is about $716,000, or 2.36%, more than the current $30.4-million budget. Miller had asked the board to try to stick to about a 2% increase, but had said he was OK with what the board proposed.
Of that $716,000 increase, $511,593 is necessary just to retain the status quo, or current level of services in the district, Putorti said.
Some costs beyond the board’s control, such as a 5.9% spike in employee health insurance, a $330,168 increase in contractual obligations, a $96,000 jump in electricity costs, and a $43,000 increase for out-of-district special education students, are driving the increase.
And then there’s $204,366 proposed in new spending, which Putorti said would cover items the board was forced to cut last year because of budgetary constraints.
Included in the new costs are four paraprofessionals ($18,564) for Bungay and Chatfield-LoPresti schools, $127,000 for two additional teachers at Seymour Middle School (to help reduce swelling class sizes), $50,000 for an additional school bus, $5,000 to create after-school clubs at Seymour High School, and $2,338 to create a cross country program at the middle school.
Putorti lauded Superintendent of Schools Christine Syriac and Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Finance Rick Belden for working magic in re-allocating funds in the budget and using grant money to provide for a full-time behavioral specialist, without increasing the bottom line.
Syriac said she was grateful to taxpayers and the finance board for granting the board a 2.03% increase in the current budget. She said that allowed for continuation of all-day kindergarten. About 85% of last year’s kindergartners entered first grade last September at “grade reading level,” compared to 70% the year before, when all-day kindergarten was not offered district-wide.
Putorti said he hopes taxpayers can support the nominal increase, especially since the proposal already has been endorsed by both the finance board and Miller, who has said the figure is a number he’s “absolutely comfortable” with.
Last year was the first time in several years the school board received any sort of an increase to its budget. In 2009-10 and again in 2010-11, the school budget received “zero percent” increases.
“I think you have support from our board,” said finance board Chairwoman Trish Danka, who thanked school officials for coming in with a reasonable request.
The finance board is slated to approve an overall town and school budget later this month, or in early March, Danka said, and it will then be presented at a public hearing to be scheduled by the Board of Selectmen. The budget will ultimately go to a townwide referendum vote later this spring. Residents cast separate ballots for the town and school budgets.

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