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School board reviews cuts to proposed 2014-15 budget

Updated 6:48 am, Friday, February 7, 2014
  • Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon goes over some proposed reductions to his proposed 2014-15 operating budget during a Board of Education meeting in Staples High School. BOE Chairwoman Elaine Whitney is on the left. Photo: Anne M. Amato / Westport News
    Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon goes over some proposed reductions to his proposed 2014-15 operating budget during a Board of Education meeting in Staples High School. BOE Chairwoman Elaine Whitney is on the left. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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As the Board of Education on Thursday continued its review of the $110.9 million budget proposed for 2014-15, several minor reductions in spending were suggested as the panel moves closer to a vote next week and passing the package on to the Board of Finance.

Among the suggested cuts Thursday night were a $100,000 reduction in the instructional supply account and a $5,000 cut in the allocation for graduation expenses.

The proposals were considered as a way to save costs in light of a $2 million shortfall in the current budget, a problem the education has been grappling with for weeks -- and most of which will have to be covered in the budget for the new fiscal year.

The instructional supply reduction would mean parents would be asked to purchase supplies for their children and they would also be asked to kick in $10 for graduating seniors, if that line item is reduced, said board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney. She also recommended eliminating one secretarial position in the schools district's central office.

Whitney also questioned whether the board should leave the 5 percent insurance claims fluctuation margin -- of $733,700 -- included by Landon and recommended to protect against future health claims fluctuations, which caused this year's deficit, or "ask for an appropriation" instead.

Whitney said these proposed recommendations will part of the discussion prior to the final vote on the 2014-15 education budget Monday.

Prior to giving the board's list of cuts, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon presented a list of his own.

These included a reduction of $245,000 in classroom refurbishing costs. "These are not major structural corrections that need to be made," Landon said. Other cuts included $245,000 that would have been used to bring three remaining schools into the exterior control system, he said.

He also suggested the school system not purchase a $16,000 utility vehicle with a plow and a $32,000 rider scrubber for the field house. "We managed all these years without them," he said.

Landon said that none of the recommended cuts would "affect the health and safety of the students" or eliminate "any programs."

All the proposed reductions, Whitney said, "would be added to the items" the board votes Monday.

The education board has been grappling with the $2 million deficit in its current budget that includes $1.3 million in incurred but not reported claims in the board's health insurance account, as well as intentional draw-downs in the health insurance reserves.

The shortfall not only affected the school system's $104 million operating budget this year, but caused an increase in Landon's proposed 2014-15 budget.

Landon's proposed $110.9 million budget is a 6.5 percent increase over current spending, with more than 2 percent allocated to cover the deficit gap in the current budget.

A school board ad hoc committee looking in to the cause of the shortfall has recommended a new reporting format for health insurance benefits, implementing internal checks and balances and more frequent reporting, in particular to track actuals 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.

An independent audit of the health insurance account is also being done by McGladrey and Pullen, the town's accounting firm.