BOE facing deficit, looking to find savings
A reduction in certain budget lines may be required as Darien schools look for a way to cover a deficit in the 2011-2012 budget due to mounting special education costs.
Financial Director Richard Huot told the Board of Education the schools are currently looking at an $85,000 deficit as a result of increased special education costs and a reduction in the excess cost grant from the state.
"Right now we are projecting a 74 percent reimbursement on eligible costs. The state is saying 78 percent. Usually they drop four or five percentage points each year," Huot said.
Huot pointed out the schools would actually be able to return a balance to the town if the state completely funded the excess grant.
Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone said he identified as much as $142,000 in potential savings if the line items for some budgets are reduced. Falcone identified textbooks, professional meetings, maintenance operations and other areas as possible budget lines that could be reduced.
"We realized we could be in a deficit. We said it's time to hold back and think about putting things on the table. I'm not going to recommend freezing the budget but I would recommend an interim step. We could do a budget reset where we take a look at some accounts and reset the lines to say this is the cap," Falcone said. "There are other areas that start to get into more challenging and difficult questions. This step doesn't totally wipe them out but does reduce them."
One of Falcone's concerns with reducing budget lines was the potential impact on some programs.
"If we reset the Middlesex intramural programs by $10,000 right now then the available budget is $17,813. That would provide for minimal activities. That's not a direction I want to go," he said.
Substitute nurses were also a possible area where savings could be found but Falcone said he would be hesitant about not having a nurse in each school.
"One of the last things I want is a nurse to be removed from the building. Our requirement is that we have one nurse for the district," he said.
Since the district is projecting a 74 percent excess cost reimbursement, BOE member Michael Harman questioned what would happen if the schools were only reimbursed at 70 percent.
"Basically, if we had that excess cost at 70 percent that wipes out the reset, right?" he asked.
Falcone said if the excess cost comes in lower than anticipated the savings he found in the budget would be wiped out and the discussion about freezing the budget and reducing line items to zero would need to take place.
"None of these items have been reduced to zero," he said.
BOE member Heather Shea said she would like to see more information about the potential impact of a budget freeze on programs before making any decisions.
"I think we need to know what the program impact would be. For myself, at least understanding if it is just stuff or in fact a programming change would be helpful," she said.
Falcone said one of the budget items he was considering reducing was the professional development funding for teachers. He said reducing the line item would decrease flexibility but wouldn't result in a course cancellation or students not having access to the services they need.
The Board opted to defer further discussion about the deficit until their next scheduled meeting Feb. 28.
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