Budget sees increase even as state funding continues to decline
As part of the proposed budget for 2011-2012, residents can expect to see costs continue to rise even as state funding continues to drop.
Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone presented the preliminary budget proposal and acknowledged that steps were being taken to alleviate the burden on tax payers while still maintaining strong programs as the schools. The 2011-2012 school budget is $5,696,221 which represents an 8 percent increase from last year. A breakdown of the budget shows that $2.5 million represents personnel costs, $1.4 million is for operating costs, $217,884 covers equipment costs and $1.6 million is for fixed expenses.
Personnel continues to represent the highest expenditure for the schools.
In his proposed budget, Falcone said the money being requested would enable the schools to continue offering the highest quality of education.
The total budget for the 2010-2011 school year was $71,512,041, which represented a 4 percent increase from the previous year, Falcone said. Much of the costs associated with the budget were due to personnel costs.
Even as the Darien schools continue to grow, additional students require more staff which continues to tax the budget, Falcone said. Currently, Darien has the highest percentage of students who are 18 and under in the state.
In order to help reign in costs, Falcone's proposal said a number of steps are being taken such as purchasing items in bulk and deferring purchases of items and the introduction of new programs.
"We have capitalized on efficiencies in staffing and it should be noted that we have realized support from parents and community members for donations as well as for paying fees for participation in activies," Falcone said in the proposal.
In comparison to other towns in the same District Reference Group, Darien spends $1,000 less than the DRG average per student and $2,000 less than New Canaan and Westport spend.
In order to maintain the current staffing levels as the schools, 4.4 percent of the total budget must go towards personnel costs, the proposal says. The proposal attributes the increase in the budget to increases in salaries and benefit costs.
"For the most part, we have limited our budget proposals to the minimum increases necessary to maintain the current level of service for our children," the proposal reads. "... Proposed increases are due either to state mandates in addition to enrollment impact or vendor cost increases."
While salaries and benefits continue to make up a significant chunk of the budget, the loss of state funding also continues to put pressure on the schools. As part of the proposal, Falcone predicts a total state funding loss of $455,547 which represents about 0.6 percent of the total budget.
New staffing costs are projected to be $648,860 with the greatest portion going to pay for foreign language teachers in the elementary schools.
As part of the state and federal mandates, the schools are required to provide appropriate programs for all special education students. Special education costs account for 1.5 percent of the total budget, or $1.1 million. In his proposal, Falcone notes that there has been an increase in the number of students who were identified with special needs.
Falcone's proposal says will continue to be funded at a similar level as previous years but there would be more focus on renovations to the old gymnasium at Middlesex Middle School.
"The 2011-2012 Superintendent's Proposed Budget represents the collective efforts of the Board, administration and faculty to provide an educationally sound, yet fiscally responsible, budget for the betterment of Darien's children and the quality of the community," Falcone said in his proposal.