Redding school board presents its budget drivers

The Redding Board of Education had a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance on Monday night to present its budget drivers overview for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Jess Gaspar, board of education chair, said the long-term budget drivers are enrollment, professional staff salaries, health insurance costs, special education, and physical plant capital improvements.

Enrollment at Redding Elementary School and John Read Middle School are projected to decline by 32% over the next 10 years, or 367 students, he said. There is an anticipated reduction of 62 students between the two schools for the 2013-14 year.

Mr. Gaspar said the total cost per pupil is about $19,113. As enrollment decreases, the board will look to reduce staff accordingly, he said.

“We’d look at the cost per classroom as a more actionable metric,” he said.

In the current budget year, professional staff salaries increased by 1%. For 2013-14 and 2014-15, contracted salary and benefit increases are 2.8% for both years, he said.

“Teachers and staff account for two-thirds of the total budget,” said Mr. Gaspar.

Health insurance costs for Redding are projected to be high, he said. There is a budgeted 5% increase for the 2012-13 year. The reserve fund fell into the negative numbers and to rebuild the fund, there needs to be between $350,000 and $400,000, he said.

In the current trend, monthly health insurance claims are “doing better than last year but are still higher than we’d like,” Mr. Gaspar said.

To date, claims are still exceeding the budgeted amount by 13%. In preparation for the high claims, the school board has already transferred $145,000 from the current operating budget into the insurance reserve.

Mr. Gaspar presented different scenarios of what the reserve fund would be if the first five months of claims are 40% of the total year or 50%.

If the first five months of claims make up 40% of the total year, the reserve fund would be at negative $315,877, and if the first five months are half of the total year’s claims, then the reserve fund would be $339,749.

The stop-loss per person is $150,000. Over the past year a couple of people have passed away, causing insurance costs to dramatically increase as the person’s health decreased, said Mr. Gaspar.

Health insurance is self-funded, and every six to seven years there are people who reach the stop-loss. It’s something that can’t be controlled, he said.

Special education accounts for “nearly one-fifth of the entire budget, and in the past two years costs are up 6% per year,” said Mr. Gaspar.

But given the uncertainty of students’ needs from year to year, it is difficult to project a long-term number, he said.

A consulting firm has also identified $3.2 million in long-term infrastructure improvements that also need to be tended to, he said.

Budget priorities for the 2013-14 year include focusing on extending and renewing personalized learning as the hallmark of the Redding public schools, said Mr. Gaspar.

Kim Yonkers, a finance board member, asked if there is a cost with personalized learning. Lewis Goldberg, a school board member, said personalized learning isn’t so much a cost as it is a theme and philosophy.

“It has a variety of forms,” he said. It can’t just be ticketed at one amount.

“We will continue to adjust staffing levels to be consistent with enrollment. The board will implement that state evaluation mandate to evaluate teachers and staff at schools, and the board will continue support for professional learning,” he said.

Professional staff retention and building maintenance will also be a priority.

Dr. Bernard Josefsberg, superintendent for the Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts, said the state-mandated teacher evaluations will help with staff retention and for teachers to improve.

Moving forward into the budget season, the school administration is developing its initial first-pass budget for the board to review, said Mr. Gaspar.

“We are optimistic,” said Mr. Gaspar.

Budget workshops are scheduled for January, and a target board of education approval date is set for Feb. 6.

There will be another article in next week’s issue about the town’s budget drivers for 2013-14.

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