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Thursday, July 24, 2014

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$110.3M school budget backed; $78.5M municipal budget unveiled

Updated 12:16 pm, Tuesday, February 11, 2014
  • Elio Longo, the school district's business administrator, keeps track of proposed reductions to the school system's 2014-15 budget as school administrators Lis Comm and Cyndy Gilchrest look over the budget proposal during Monday's Board of Education meeting at Staples High School. Photo: Anne M. Amato / Westport News
    Elio Longo, the school district's business administrator, keeps track of proposed reductions to the school system's 2014-15 budget as school administrators Lis Comm and Cyndy Gilchrest look over the budget proposal during Monday's Board of Education meeting at Staples High School. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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A $110,319,484 operating budget for 2014-15 was unanimously approved Monday by the Board of Education, a 5.89 percent increase over this fiscal year's $104 million budget.

Meanwhile, the Board of Finance began review of the $78,490,350 in municipal spending proposed by First Selectman Jim Marpe, which if approved, would be 3.1 percent more than the current $76,117,323, according to Gary Conrad, town finance director.

Both sides of the public spending package must be approved by the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting before the new fiscal year starts July 1.

The approved education budget includes $699,000 in cuts made to Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon's initial budget request.

They include a $50,000 cut in the $2.8 million schools supply budget which means parents of the town's approximately 2,500 elementary school students will now be required to purchase $20 worth of supplies for their children. Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney said the panel "might be able to increase that amount in the future."

Also approved was the elimination of "one-half of a paraprofessionsl" at Coleytown Middle School, which will save $13,500 and a $75,000 savings with the elimination of one permanent teacher substitute at each of the town's schools from the board's $71.9 million salaries account.

The board also approved a one-year deferral for classroom refurbishing and tile cleaning, which will save $265,000. "None of these are easy decisions," said Whitney when board member Brett Aronow expressed concern over this cut.

The board also cut $50,000 in its technology budget. All the cuts were unanimously approved.

Prior to the vote on the school budget, the Board of Education's Health Insurance Fund Review Committee, in its interim report, won backing from the full board to seek a special, one-time appropriation of $1,088,734 from the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting. The appropriation would comprise $355,009 to make up the cash shortfall in the current school budget and $733,700 to provide a 5 percent risk corridor, or safety net, to cover a shortfall in its health and medical insurance account.

If the board gets approval of the full special appropriation, it would reduce the 2014-15 budget to $109,589,74, with an increase of 5.19 percent, said Elio Longo, the school system's business manager.

While school board members initially felt there would be a nearly $2 million deficit in its current budget, right now there is the $355,009 negative cash balance with about $1.3 million in incurred but not reported health insurance claims, referred to as an "accounting liability," according to board members.

The Health Insurance Fund Review Committee, an ad hoc committee, recommended that the board request that the Board of Finance work in collaboration with the school board to address this "accounting liability."

The way that amount will be dealt with is "still to be announced," said Aronow, the ad hoc committee chair.

Besides the $1.3 million in incurred but not reported claims, intentional draw-downs in the health insurance reserves were to blame for the deficit, according to the ad hoc committee.

Aronow said the committee expects to receive the independent audit being done by McGladrey and Pullen, the town's accounting firm, and the committee will complete its final report on the shortfall after validating facts and recommendations in that audit.

The committee, during a recent meeting, made some recommendations including a new reporting format for health insurance benefits, implementing internal checks and balances and more frequent reporting, in particular to track actual claims to the budget on a monthly basis and establish quarterly school board reviews. It also recommends considering an annual audit of the school district's health reserve fund.