Superintendent of schools Karen List presented a proposed $138.89 million budget for the 2012-13 school year to the Board of Education Tuesday night, officially beginning the budget process which will culminate in the Town Council's adoption of the overall budget on April 24.
"Historically, when we look at per pupil spending, a generation ago we were in the top 10 [in the state]. Now we are 117th out of 169," List told the Board.
Nearly the entire proposed budget is a "roll forward" budget, maintaining the same programs and services. In terms of dollars, the major component of that is salaries, which are budgeted to increase from $87.91 million to $90.47 million, an increase of 2.91 percent. According to List's executive summary, the salary increases reflect "modest changes in teacher and other union salaries in 2012-13."
Tuition costs are projected to increase by the greatest percentage – 50.1 percent – a $1.3 million increase resulting from the costs for inter-district magnet school tuition, special education tuition, and a projected decrease in the excess cost reimbursement rate received from the State of Connecticut. The decrease in the excess cost reimbursement rate from 75 percent to 62 percent adds a projected $570,000 to the school budget.
Medical costs are projected to increase by $1.1 million, a 5.35 percent increase which is the lowest increase in many years, and significantly lower than the 9.7 percent trend rate, List said.
Pension expenses are budgeted to increase by $0.7 million – 22.8% – based on new actuarial valuations set by the Town. Transportation costs are slated to increase under the proposed budget by $0.3 million – 5.64% – due to contractual increases combined with higher outplacement transportation costs.
Enrollment and programmatic changes, which are outside of the roll forward budget, represent a proposed net increase of only $51,000. Shifting enrollment will result in a net increase of two positions – three extra positions at the high school level and a reduction of one position at the elementary level.
Other changes include reorganization of the IT department, replacement of the assistant principal at Smith School with a STEM specialist to reflect the school's emphasis on science and technology, converting the math and English department positions to full time, and a reduction of seven clerical positions in schools and the central office.
"Relative resources are the lowest ever, yet our student performance is at the highest point," List said, as she presented a graphic illustration of the increase in standardized test scores and closing of the achievement gap. We continue to rank first in terms of the expectations of the community in the services we provide."
"These are challenging times, and I have listened to parents, administrators and teachers," List told the Board. She said her goal was to keep what people want, including "small class size, full day kindergarten, support for all learners, excellent arts and physical education programs, World Language starting in grade 3, middle school teams, AP courses, comprehensive high school course offerings, and a strong counseling component."
List said her proposed budget "minimizes but does not eliminate the impact on taxes. This budget positions our children and community for the future."
The full budget is available online here, and Board members encourage the community to be involved in the deliberation process.
In maintaining tradition, questions were not asked by Board of Education members at this initial budget presentation but will be the focus of budget workshops scheduled for March 14 and 15, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall Room 314. Although members of the public are invited to attend those workshops, public comment is not permitted.
Board of Education members have also volunteered to speak about the budget to PTOs at all West Hartford Public Schools, and more than half have already scheduled those sessions.
A public hearing on the education budget will be held on Wednesday, March 28 at 7 p.m. in Room 314, immediately followed by the Board of Education's final budget workshop. The budget will be adopted by the Board on April 10.