Bethany Board of Education considers 2002-03 budget

At its Dec. 12 meeting, the Bethany Board of Education and superintendent of schools reviewed preliminary data related to the operating and capital budgets for the 2002-03 fiscal and school year. Board co-chairs Sal Ferrante and Lucy Painter have worked closely with financial/budget committee chairman, Sal Amadeo, and Superintendent Dominick Vita to make the budget as clear and understandable as possible. This year's budget format has been revised to more accurately reflect the reorganization of the school district and primary programs.

A step-by-step review of the issues and requirements impacting the upcoming budget identified several areas which will affect the overall increase. More than 90 percent of the school district's operating budget is pre-determined by fixed expenses such as certified and non-certified staff salaries, substitutes, employee benefits, transportation, contracted services, special education costs, insurance premiums, facilities operations, and utilities. Board members noted that a relatively small portion of the budget can be considered discretionary.

The board of finance asked that this year's recommended budget be submitted by mid-January. Since this is more than a month earlier than usual, there are several areas where costs are speculative. These include education, heating oil prices, revised costs for instructional supplies and final determinations for staffing.

A review of the past six years' budget history indicates that the average annual increase in the board of education's operating budget has been approximately 4.7 percent. The increase in the current 2001-02 operating budget was approximately 3.3 percent over the 2000-01 budget. The board is faced with several significant budgetary issues this year. These include the $21,000 cost for the second year of the 36 month lease of a temporary modular building with two classrooms that was constructed last winter. This annual lease cost, insurance, and utilities for this building represents more than one half percent of the operating budget for next year. This facility houses programs that cannot be accommodated in the current Community School due to lack of space. Additionally, the budget will be impacted by a projected 16 percent increase in health insurance premiums for employees. It is anticipated that health insurance premium costs will be finalized by early January. This may be approximately one percent of the budget increase for next year.

Other increases include negotiated contractual increases for teachers and support personnel, an$8,000 increase in mandated funding for workers compensation, an increase in unemployment payments, increased property and liability insurance, increased telecommunication costs, and other essential operating expenses. No new program improvements are being recommended for the coming school year.

In addition to the operating budget, the board discussed a capital budget outlining projected expenditures for next year and the following four years. Highlights of these recommendations include replacement of old carpeting, deteriorated cabinetry, countertops, and sinks in the rotunda, enhanced security features, lavatory refurbishment, an additional well, landscaping, and some facility repairs. These projects were not addressed in the last building renovation. Some of the projects listed will not be necessary if the new school is built.

The board of education indicated that they have historically worked closely and cooperatively with the school's administration to develop a budget which is fiscally responsible and educationally sound. Board members commended the school administration and staff for working on a comprehensive yet frugal budget. Although they noted that the discretionary expense in the budget are minimal, the board asked that every possibility for cost savings be explored. Several board members noted that the Bethany Public School District has proven that it can achieve a high level of achievement and student performance while being responsible and creative in its economic functions. The annual per pupil cost in Bethany has been consistently under $7,000 for the past six years.

After an extended analysis of the impact of a variety of budgetary factors, the board determined that it would like to meet with representatives of the board of finance in January to provide with an overview of the key budget issues for next year and to clarify any questions about the budget. Following preliminary discuss, the board of education will officially present a recommended budget to the board of finance in February. The education budget will ultimately be presented to Bethany voters as part of the total town budget at the town meeting in May.

Dominick C. Vita is the superintendent of the Bethany Public School District.