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Stonington school board expects bad news on budget cuts

STONINGTON — School district officials are bracing for the possibility of having to make a hefty cut in their 2014-15 budget proposal after learning that the Board of Finance’s tax rate target could require significant spending adjustments.

Not only should Board of Education members expect to make reductions to their proposed $34.7 million budget for 2014-15, but Board of Education Chairman Frank Todisco said Thursday night they should expect the dollar amount to be “fairly large.”

“We don’t have a firm number,” Todisco told the school board’s finance committee. “But we’re expecting it to be a fairly large number.”

“We need to start thinking forward,” he added. “We’re going to have to make some difficult decisions.”

The discussion didn’t go as far as to where possible cuts could happen — to personnel, programs or athletics — but Todisco told Board of Education members during their regular monthly meeting, which followed the finance panel’s session, that because the school budget makes up about 58 percent of the overall town budget, they will probably deal with a larger percentage of the cut.

A special Board of Education meeting has been called for Thursday, March 27.

“The board is going to have to evaluate different options,” he said. “And we have the responsibility to inform the public where we’re thinking those cuts are coming from” once a final number comes from the Board of Finance.

The Board of Finance made more than $280,000 in cuts from the proposed 2014-15 municipal budget Wednesday night, but plans to cut $1.4 million more because it is trying to hold the property tax increase to about 4 percent. The municipal and school budgets as initially presented would have raised the tax rate by more than 7 percent. The finance board’s deliberations will continue March 19 at the police station at 7 p.m.

“We’re expecting a firm number then,” Todisco said.

Superintendent Van W. Riley and the Board of Education have already made major spending reductions to arrive at the $34.7 million budget as currently proposed. It would hold the budget increase to 2.96 percent, or $997,374.

The cuts include the elimination of 14 positions, the Summer Credit Recovery Program at the high school, and payment for student AP and college test fees. Class sizes are projected to increase.

In order to keep the status quo with the same number of teachers and programs as last year, the budget increase would have been twice the amount it is now, because the district’s expenses have gone up this year.

Fuel, health insurance, utilities and state mandates related to a new teacher evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards are all expected to cost more.

“It’s really important that we find out what that number is going to be” from the Board of Finance, Riley said. “And then if (residents) don’t like it, they can let officials know April 10.”

Residents can weigh in on the budget at the public hearing on Thursday, April 10, at Stonington High School at 7 p.m.

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