Board of Ed OKs 4% budget increase

Though it hovered down below 4% briefly, a schools budget for 2013-14 totaling $83,224,929, an increase of 4.05% ,was approved after several adjustments, including those for school security, elementary school furniture and secretary pay.

The budget, trimmed down slightly from 4.07% originally presented last month, will be presented to the Board of Finance in March.

The Board of Education’s discussion at a Tuesday night meeting on Feb. 12 resulted in a reduction of $14,717 from the superintendent’s original budget.

Members of the board submitted adjustments — budget amounts to be modified, cut or added — at their last regular meeting. The board proposed to remove the $30,000 cost for replacing elementary school furniture, and it was finally modified to $10,950. Parents and school principals showed their support for these replacements since their introduction.

“Based on information from the administration,” said Clara Sartori, board vice chairman, “we can reduce this to $10,950, and still buy all the necessary [items].”

The board also removed a stipend for a teacher to support technology at each of the elementary schools — a proposed total of $11,835 — with a note that the conversation should be deferred until there is more information about the position. Sartori, vice chairman, asked whether the library media staff could support those services. She was also concerned that the position would eventually grow to full time, she said. Heather Shea, board secretary, was also concerned that even a part-time, stipend position might have an negative impact on teachers’ classes.

Board member Jim Plutte argued that even when he taught 35 years ago in Louisiana, that school had someone who managed technology, so that teachers only had to worry about preparing  for class. “It would be very well spent,” he said, because the money is “relatively” little.

The amount was removed from the budget after a vote, with Plutte the only member voting against.

The athletics budget received an extra $8,500 for transportation and officials at the games.

The $407,000 technology budget was brought up for discussion but it remained in its entirety after a vote.

After some discussion the board denied changing the health department secretaries’ position to a full-time 10 month position , although an additional 20 work days for every secretary in the elementary school was approved.

The town has cut many secretary positions, said Morgan Whittier, board member, so he asked for to remove all additional secretary time “out of respect.” Shea was “torn” between cutting either the elementary or health secretaries, she said before the vote.

After these changes, the budget was reduced to a 3.80% change over the current budget. Superintendent Dr. Stephen Falcone proposed that the board approve additional spending on security measures, which include building upgrades and security monitors.

The board approved Falcone’s recommendation to accelerate the cost of  $344,000 — for security cameras installment and upgrade, exterior public address systems, and security monitors at each elementary school and Middlesex Middle School for the rest of the school year— and bring it the Board of Finance this year as part of the capital budget.

The board also approved a regular addition of $201,000 for the 2013-14 school year budget for security monitors and maintenance costs. Adjustments for security resulted in the final budget number.

Currently there are volunteers who sit at the Welcome Desk and sign in visitors. After Newtown, many teachers and other staff also volunteered, but this took them away from their main jobs, said Falcone, schools superintendent.

Though he said parent volunteers “will be there,” he added, “what we can’t do is rely on them.”

The board also approved the capital budget at $2,198,700. Unlike the operating budget, which has to be approved as a whole, the Board of Finance is able to edit lines out of the capital budget. Some members of the board voiced the concern that the finance board will not approve all of the security measures. The board will have to go back and “reappropriate” the money, said Betsy Hagerty-Ross, board chairman, if the town sends it back.

The town side of the budget recently proposed an increase of 7.14%.

The Board of Finance will vote on the Board of Ed budget on April 11.

It then goes to the Representative Town Meeting, who will then vote on the final combined town budget on May 13.

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