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Thursday, April 19 News

Fairfield Superintendent of Schools’ budget up 3 percent

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article compared Fairfield’s per pupil expenditure to all Fairfield County towns, as opposed to the group of southern Fairfield County towns referred to in Superintendent Toni Jones’ budget presentation.

FAIRFIELD — In what Superintendent Toni Jones and members of the Board of Education have anticipated would be a difficult budget year amid uncertainty from the state, the proposed 2017-18 budget is up only 3.1 percent.

Jones presented the $173,956,991 budget, up from the current year’s $168 million spending plan, at the Tuesday school board meeting, officially opening up this year’s budget discussions.

Declining state aid, Jones said, has been putting increasing pressure on the school system and the town to make up the difference.

“Whenever we lose state funding, of course, that puts more pressure on local funding in order to sustain our budget,” Jones said.

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Upcoming budget discussions

The Board of Education will meet to review the budget on Jan. 16, 23 and 25, before approving it and sending the document to Town Hall.

The amount the district receives in state aid, especially in the form of Education Cost Sharing grant funding, has dropped significantly in recent years — notably by $2.4 million from 2015-16 to 2016-17 — and has continued to drop. For 2017-18, Jones budgeted $903,828, the same amount received by the district in the current fiscal year, though she warned the figure would likely change.

Adding to the proposed budget increase, according to Jones, are certain fixed-cost areas, especially salaries and benefits, pupil personnel services, transportation expenses and tuition costs for students enrolled out of district.

“We don’t have control over these. These are costs that we must pay that are driven by other factors,” Jones said.

Those budget items add up to $5.3 million, $1.8 million of which is spent on contracted salaries.

Jones’ budget presentation did not only reflect increases.

The district eliminated two bus routes, a cost-saving measure of about $200,000, raised pre-K tuition annually to save around $12,000, increased billable costs for out-of-district students attending Fairfield schools to accrue an additional $291,929 and changed insurance.

“Over the last two years we have saved $5 million in just health insurance, because all of our staff was willing to make that change,” Jones said

Also included in the proposed budget is the elimination of the districtwide instructional improvement teacher positions — one was previously housed at each elementary school — in order to replace them with 11 elementary program facilitators whose job it will be to provide consistency for special education students, scheduling, intervention services and more, Jones said.

Besides the proposed changes, Jones said Fairfield is continuing efforts to educate students in the most economical way possible, spending below many other southern Fairfield County towns for per pupil expenditure, which Jones said was $19,122 based on figures from Greenwich, Weston, Westport, New Canaan, Darien, Wilton, Stamford, Fairfield, Norwalk and Trumbull. The Fairfield school district spends an average of $17,002 per student, ahead of only Trumbull and Norwalk on the list.

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The board mostly held questions for upcoming meetings on the budget, but Chairman Philip Dwyer was complimentary of Jones’ budget.

“Bringing a budget in at roughly 3 percent (increase) is an achievement,” Dwyer said. “This board will have to go through the next couple of weeks to look at the budget and it may be that information comes forward in the next week or two that will allow us to further tighten the budget. And hopefully we won’t get information that suddenly blows the budget out and we have to increase it.”

An amended Board of Education budget will be presented at Town Hall Jan. 31.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1

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