WOODBRIDGE - Beecher Road School is requesting an operating budget of $11.9 million for the 2008-2009 year. That amount calls for a 5.82 percent increase from the previous year. Dr. Guy Stella, the superintendent of schools, presented the details of the budget at a joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance on Jan. 31.

The budget was previously approved by the Board of Education prior to presentation at the Jan. 31 meeting. According to Stella, "98 percent of the increase is to maintain the financial status quo."

Stella pointed out that part of the budget increase comes from a plan by the Woodbridge Board of Education, in collaboration with the town, to manage the costs of postemployment benefits. He noted that in comparing "apples to apples" the budget would only increase 4.48 percent.

As medical costs rise and people live longer, however, postemployment costs, such as medical insurance, could be staggering. In an effort to explore solutions to the potential liability, the town is considering pre-funding maneuvers that would generate investment returns to offset future obligations.

Stella said that the increase in this year's budget of 5.82 percent reflects costs that would be incurred to pre-fund retirees' health insurance.

Stella said, "We're willing to address the cost of future retiree health benefits. It's the right thing to do. The longer we wait, the larger the liability."

The bulk of the increases are attributed to the cost of salaries and benefits, which account for 78 percent of the budget. According to the figures presented by Stella, the overall increase of salaries and benefits over last year's budget would amount to 7 percent.

Other contributors to the increase included rising utility and energy costs, which would rise 20 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Stella mentioned that in collaboration with the town, however, the school district was able to lock into some competitive electric bids. Additionally, the school's lighting fixtures had been adapted to lower energy consumptive fixtures.

Stella said that there were no plans to increase staffing. In fact, based on projected dropping entollment, Stella predicted that 4 staff postions would be eliminated in the next five years.

One area that reflected a large increase concerned costs for moving the District Offices back to the Beecher Road School campus. Stella reported that there was an increasing need for more space at the Center School building. To free up some space, Stella had been approached about vacating the Center space.

A drop in expenditures was expected next year for tuition costs for district students that needed accommodations in a different environment. Based on the school's expectations, those costs would be reduced by 36 percent.

Stella said that along with the continued implementation of the comprehensive strategic plan for the school, some new educational initiatives would be instituted. He said, "No organization can stay static and keep up with the rapic changes that take place around us."

Among some of the proposed initiatives, Stella hoped to extend the foreign language program to include the kindergarten through second grade levels. He also pointed out that the social studies curriculum needed work, since it had not been updated for at least 10 years. Stella said, "A lot has happened in that time."

Sandy Stein, one of the selectmen, commended Stella on his efforts, saying, "You've done a tremendous job in turning the school around."

"We made promises. We kept those promises. We're moving Beecher Road School ahead. We need your continued support of this budget to continue the type of momentum that has been created," said Stella.