Denied by finance board, Trumbull school board turns to Town Council for more money

December 16, 2017 GMT

TRUMBULL — After being denied most of its funding requests by the Board of Finance Thursday night, the Board of Education heads to Town Council to ask for $1.2 million for its current school year budget.

Requests for special education, health care costs, after-school programs, building repairs and SAT prep funding from a contingency fund were voted down by the Board of Finance. Only one item, $90,000 for legal settlements associated with special education, was approved.

“We know it’s going to be a tough year,” Board of Education Chairman Loretta Chory said after the vote. “We know that the state of Connecticut has had a big impact on our budget. It has certainly not made it any easier.”

Chory said the school board will review this year’s budget before going before Town Council.

“We have to be prepared for that for second semester,” Chory said of the possibility of Town Council also denying them the funds. “Because it could certainly impact staffing.”

During the budget discussions last spring, the school district asked for $102.7 million for the 2017-18 school year. When the state was facing a budget shortfall earlier this year and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed cuts in aid to municipalities, town departments were asked to make cuts to their budgets to pool money for a contingency fund. The school board’s budget was approved at $98.9 million, about the same as the 2016-17 budget. The total town budget is about $170 million.

In August, the school board requested $1.4 million of the money that went to the contingency fund to prevent staff layoffs, and Board of Finance voted to give them the funds, putting the school board’s budget at $100.3 million.

At the time, Board of Finance Chairman Elaine Hammers told the school board not to count on more money from the contingency fund.

But the school board returned to the finance committee Thursday to ask for more money.

“This is not a bottomless pit and I just keep hearing them come back,” Hammers said before the vote. “You came back, we gave you $1.4 (million) because we didn’t want to lay off teachers and it’s constantly coming back. You heard me say it in August ... Live within what we gave you because we gave you more than everybody else.”

Hammers grew frustrated before the vote when Trumbull Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gary Cialfi explained the request for $50,250 for unexpected facility repairs, including replacing a hot water supply pump at Trumbull High School that set the district back around $31,000.

“It boggles my mind that in a $100 million budget, we don’t have $50,000 to repair things? The buildings, surprise surprise, they’re not new ... you don’t think things are going to break?” she said.

When Cialfi requested $20,000 for SAT prep, Hammers pointed out that the chief financial officer at Greens Farms Academy, a private K-12 school, told her that students at the school were advised to use Khan Academy, an free online educational website, for SAT prep.

“I’m not sure why Trumbull students can’t walk in the library, log into Khan Academy, which is absolutely free, and take an SAT prep class,” Hammers said.

Cialfi said that while Trumbull High School had been using Khan Academy for two years, the online prep was very different from an SAT prep class.

“I’m not sure Greens Farms students are restricted to just that opportunity,” Cialfi said.

Trumbull High School is offering some SAT prep through its continuing education program, but the request for the $20,000 is to reinstate an SAT prep program the school previously had, he said.

The $611,000 the school board requested for this year’s special education expenses was deadlocked 3-3 and failed. The $300,000 requested to cover “underestimated increase in health care costs” failed 2-4, the $116,000 requested for after school program costs and the $50,250 requested for facility repairs failed unanimously, and the $20,000 requested for SAT prep failed 1-6.

Budget discussions for the 2018-19 school year are in the works.

The school district has asked for $105 million, a 5 percent increase from the current $100.3 million budget, which includes more staff and technology and transportation updates.

If the school district had received the requested $1.2 million back from the contingency fund for the current budget, the 2018-2019 school year budget would be a 3.77 percent increase, the budget document shows.