A 3.47-percent increase over the 2011-12 Region 14 budget is too high and residents will not approve it, according to town officials who spoke at the Monday, March 26, budget workshop at .
The superintendent's proposed 2012-13 Region 14 budget is $31,296,066, an increase of $1,050,037 or 3.47-percent over the 2011-12 approved budget of $30,246,029.
A public hearing on the proposed 2012-13 Region 14 budget will take place at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 2, at Nonnewaug High School. Also on the agenda is a public hearing on Board of Education recommendations to appropriate $1,120,000 for the following:
- Upgrading the elevator at NHS
- Asbestos removal at
- Replacing existing oil fired burners on 13 boilers and hot water heaters at NHS, , MES and the Vo-Ag building
- Replacing the fire alarm main panel at Bethlehem Elementary School
The referendum is scheduled for 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 8. Bethlehem's polling place is the Bethlehem Town Hall. In Woodbury, voters go to the .
Finance Board Members Want No Increase
Woodbury Board of Finance member Deb Fuller said Finance Board Chairman Bill Drakeley sent a letter to the Board of Education in support of no increase to the mill rate in Woodbury.
She said his letter was not answered but it is clear to her that his wish will not come true.
"The student population is down and the teachers were cooperative and yet you're asking us to increase taxes," said Fuller. "This is not going to fly."
She said she had hoped the past superintendent's actions would not be repeated.
"Of concern was the administrative positions added under Dr. [Robert] Cronin, which apparently, you're going to perpetuate," she said.
Bethlehem Board of Finance member Lenny Assard said the town is still paying for Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm.
"The grand list is down $14,000 so we can't pick up money there," he said. "I don't know how you can tell these folks they're going to spend three to four hundred dollars more [in taxes]. I don't know how you will sell a 3.47 percent increase."
Bethlehem Board of Finance member Mike Devine said it is important to be upfront with voters.
"3.47 percent makes them feel good," he said. "But because of the shortfall in revenue, the tax bill will reflect a higher increase."
Fuller said she hoped for greater transparency.
"The budget is not as transparent as I hoped it would have been," she said. "You're projecting electricity rates at rates we know won't be there."
The board simply started out too high, said Fuller.
"I think you're asking for the top and I don't know about where you live, but I think people in this town are still hurting from the economic downturn," she said.
Devine asked if the district really needs an assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, at a cost of $173,658. Goeler said the district does need that position and noted that the cost includes benefits.
"There's significant work that needs to be done in the area of curriculum development that can't be done without a central office leader providing that kind of support," said Goeler. "You take away professional development and there's no hope for improvement in the school system."
Region 14's teachers took a hard freeze to make this budget work, he said.
"The teachers stepped up and I believe they deserve a lot of credit for that," said Goeler.
An Uncertain Future and Narrower Opportunities
Goeler said that times have changed and opportunities for young people are narrower than they once were.
"Schools used to be able to say, 'well, we can't reach all of them'," he said, referring to students.
There were other options for students post-high school: getting one's GED or attending a trade school, he said.
"There was a place for them," said Goeler. "Nowadays, you leave high school without a high school education and prospects of a career and those places are few and far between. We can't afford to lose a single child."
Next year, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges will conduct an evaluation of Nonnewaug High School.
"If we fail on the mandates, we run the risk of someone from the state overseeing operations and having to tell people we failed," said Goeler.
Woodbury First Selectman Gerald Stomski said he and Selectman Barbara Perkinson understand the economic challenges the Board of Education faces.
"Thank goodness we have a decrease in enrollment because I fear what we'd see if we had the opposite," he said.
Stomski said residents will not be able to handle a budget increase at 3.47 percent.
Nonnewaug High School Principal Andrew O'Brien said he knows any increase is hard to swallow but said the proposed budget is the best way for Region 14 to provide for students with all the state mandates coming down the pike.
"Any lower and we cannot honestly say we'll be able to provide the same level of excellence your community has grown accustomed to," he said. "If we can convince people to make that investment, there's going to be a substantial return on that investment."
"Based on all the years of hardship the schools have endured, there's no more fat left to trim," said O'Brien.
How to Achieve a Flat Budget
Goeler said $1,050,037 must be cut in order to get to a zero percent increase. He said that equates to approximately 15 teaching positions at $1,050,037. Other areas that would likely get cut could be:
- Extracurriculars - $165,000
- Professional development - $95,000
- Sports - $470,000
"Those are the kinds we'd need to make to realize a zero percent budget," said Goeler. "As we all know, this isn't an exercise of hope and magic. This is an exercise of numbers and math."
Fuller said the Board of Finance supports education but she cannot ask the finance board to support a 3.47 percent increase.
"I think you could have sharpened your pencils more," she said.
Finance board member Charles Bartlett shared the same opinion.
"I'm sorry, the increase is not acceptable -- not that amount," he said. "I know you've worked hard. You're going to have to work harder."