Shelton schools superintendent proposes budget nearly 3 percent higher than this year’s

January 18, 2019

SHELTON — Schools Superintendent Chris Clouet has proposed a $74.9 million spending plan for next year that is nearly 3 percent higher than this year’s budget but keeps serves the same as this year.

Clouet floated that idea — which would call for an estimated $2.2 million increase over the city-approved $72.7 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year — during the Board of Education budget workshop Wednesday.

“It is more than we’ve received in past,” said Clouet. “We will prioritize and reduce the ‘asks’ we have, all of which are reasonable, into something that would fit into a 2.99 percent increase.”

Clouet said he announced the percent increase in hopes of receiving board guidance before submitting a final budget proposal before the special Board of Education budget workshop on Jan. 30.

There will be two opportunities for public comment during the Jan. 30 meeting. The school’s budget must be filed with the city by Feb. 15.

The Board of Education had spent two meetings examining the overall numbers, including how much it would cost if the district just maintained current service levels.

Such a budget would increase the 2019-20 operating budget to an estimated $75.6 million, a $2.9 million, or 3.9 percent, increase.

Requests from the program directors and principals would add an additional $2.2 million or a 3.06 percent hike, on top of that number just to maintain present operating standards.

“Although I would love ask for essentially what you see here, which amounts to an approximately 7 percent increase, I don’t think that is something we can legitimately do in terms with engaging with the city,” said Clouet.

Over the past 10 years, the school budget has increased an average of 1.45 percent annually. Last year, the school board had requested an additional $2.8 million — a 3.99 percent — increase from its 2017-18 budget, but the city approved a $1.2 million increase over the previous year, a 1.72 percent hike.

To offset $347,000 in expenses that the city and state did not cover, the district instituted a pay-for-play program, started charging tuition to some students attending preschool and added a fee to parents whose children attend magnet schools.

Once the proposed budget receives board approval it is presented to the Board of Aldermen.

In describing how he would pitch a budget hike to the Alderman, school board Chairman Mark Holden said he would explain that the budget does what it needs without any frills.

“Recognizing the importance of keeping taxes low and reasonable in Shelton,” said Holden, “we, as a board, have prioritized things to bring that number down to a more manageable level. There is no fat here. This is not a wish list. This is what we need.”

Just maintaining current and contractual services calls for hikes of $1.3 million in teachers and administrators salaries, $270,662 for employee benefits, $242,713 in instructional materials and $490,914 in outgoing tuition costs.

When factoring in requests from program directors and principals — which call for 18 new staffers and increased equipment — those numbers would jump, costs that, taken as a whole, would be difficult, if not impossible to pass through the Board of Aldermen, Clouet said.

“If we continue to get $1 million, $1.2 million each year for five years, for six years, we will be cutting staff, cutting administrators, cutting materials, and we will not be the same school district,” said Clouet.

“This is truly an equity question. I ask that we have a vision of what we think kids need, and we need to demand that the city and appropriate authorities have a vision as well,” he said. “Right now, I am not clear what that vision is, and it cannot just be transactional — what costs more, what costs less. It has to be more than that.”

Clouet said that residents ask their city to “take care of senior citizens, as we should, to take care of the sick and those that have special needs, as we should. We also need to say the children are citizens of this city and also need to be represented by the politicians. They should have equal representation.

“It’s the 21st century, and we want to get into top 25 percent of school districts,” added Clouet. “We are will move forward, whatever we get. We will do what we need to do. But we need to be fair to the kids, not propaganda. It’s not me standing on a soap box. This is me doing my job.”