Wallingford’s rise in school spending explained

WALLINGFORD — The Board of Education digs deeper into the nearly $110 million school spending proposal for the next fiscal year at its first budget workshop this week.

On Wednesday evening, members of the board’s operations committee received an overview of the $109,840,683 budget that school superintendent Danielle Bellizzi presented to the board on Jan. 19. If passed, the budget would represent a 2.93% increase in spending over current levels.

The district budget is divided into two parts. The supported services budget includes items such as salaries, utilities, and health insurance. The strategic plan includes long-term projects, such as major repairs, upgrades and constructions.

The Superintendent’s budget recommends $108,844,786 for sustained services, an increase of 1.99% over current expenditures, and a strategic plan of $995,897, an increase of 0.94%.

The biggest increase in the proposal is the cost of personnel, which would increase by about $1.8 million.

Based on the district’s existing employment contracts, teachers are expected to receive a 1.65% raise, nurses will see a 1.75% increase and administrators will receive an additional 1.99%. Teachers also receive incremental increases based on the number of years they have been with the district, which averages an additional 1.25% increase.

Paraprofessionals also receive a 1.75% increase and the budget would increase the number of positions.

Falling enrollment, rising tuition fees

Reflecting declining enrollment levels, the budget would cut two teaching positions in elementary schools. As the district sees an increasing number of students requiring special education services, the proposal calls for the addition of a special education teacher, an English teaching position and a desk for special education.

Tuition the district pays to area cooperative educational services for displaced students is also expected to increase by $636,114, while lower state reimbursements for displaced students will cost an additional $282,609.

“One of the main drivers of the (tuition) increase is that ACES has increased its tuition and we have a significant number of students in ACES schools. So I believe it was 5%…which is a lot for us,” said Aimee Turner, assistant superintendent for special education.

The district’s allocation for health insurance is expected to increase by approximately 8%, an increase of $438,113.

Although overall utility costs are expected to remain about the same, the cost of natural gas and fuel oil for heating is expected to increase significantly, up 60.46% for fuel oil and 48.50% for gas natural, for a total increase of $579,418.

“This year, we are paying $1.42 per gallon. I estimated $2.28 a gallon because that’s what it was about a week ago when I was putting the numbers together,” said commercial manager Dominic Barone.

Transport, catering

The district is achieving savings in transportation by reducing four after-school routes to homes and reducing the special education transportation allowance to better reflect past trends. The budget would reduce transportation spending by almost $1 million.

“We have reduced four home school routes,” Barone said. “We reduced some of our special education transportation…we continued to run a surplus for several years, so we made an adjustment of $594,000.”

A projected surplus in the cafeteria budget this year allows administrators to project that the district’s food service program will return to cost-neutral next year. Barone said that before the pandemic, the district largely only provided funding to the program to cover the cost of equipment or unscheduled maintenance, but COVID-19 has brought additional expenses. Last year the district provided $144,615 for the restoration program and more than $350,000 the previous two years.

“Once COVID hit, we ended up supplementing them because of all the lost revenue they had and we continued that all year,” Barone said. “And the hope is that they’re going to be self-sufficient in the future.”

[email protected]: @leith_yessian

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