By Samaia Hernandez
As published in the Record Journal Wednesday January 6, 2010
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WALLINGFORD – With three new members and under new Republican leadership, the Board of Education have less than three weeks to change or approve a proposed $88,599,670 budget that includes some of the most radical changes the district has seen in decades.
After the board voted unanimously Monday night to appoint Republican Thomas Hennessey as chairman, Republican Roxane McKay as vice chairman and, in a "spirit of camaraderie," former Democratic Chairman Michael Votto as secretary, it heard a presentation from School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo unveiling the 2010-11 budget, which called for the elimination of 55.6 certified teaching positions and 117.1 part-time and full-time staff members.
The budget, up 4.16 percent from this year’s $85,057,113, also calls for a complete restructuring of the town’s eight elementary schools, converting them from the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade configuration to four schools with kindergarten through second grade and four with third through fifth grades.
The elementary reconfiguration will allow the district to save nearly $2 million in staff costs, Menzo said. It also will replace front-door greeters with voice-access systems, reduce some classroom sizes and more equally distribute resources such as literacy and mathematics coaches.
"We are obviously faced with very difficult times in the United States," Menzo said in Sheehan High School’s auditorium to parents and staff members at the meeting of the school board’s Operations Committee.
This year’s proposed budget represents the smallest increase in the past 10 years. Increases on average have been greater than 6 percent. It is also the first time in more than 10 years that a budget has called for layoffs that will not result from attrition, Hennessey said.
The first step in creating the proposal was the development of a "sustained-level" budget: a budget that calculates what it would cost to provide the same services in the following year, given rising costs. Such a budget would have called for a 9.94 percent increase and a budget of $93,514,996.
"We knew that we could not present, in clear conscience, to the town of Wallingford a 9.94 percent increase," Menzo said.
On Jan. 25, the board will approve a budget to be presented to the mayor, which has traditionally been returned in early April requesting further reductions. That could mean even deeper cuts. Last year, Mayor William W. Dickinson cut $2.6 million from a budget proposal of about $87 million.
Other school districts in the state, faced with similar economic hardship, have increased class sizes while reducing programs and teaching positions.
Given that the current budget was offset by a surplus of $1.9 million and nearly $400,000 in federal stimulus money, the proposed budget is just a 1.41 percent or $1.2 million increase over current-year expenditures. But even with a budget freeze on all nonessential spending in place since October, the district is not planning to enter the summer with the same surplus it had this year.
Newly elected board member Chet Miller requested a breakdown of town education funding vs. state grants, for Saturday’s budget workshop, which will take place at 8 a.m. in Sheehan’s auditorium.
"The money from the state keeps dwindling," Miller said, "which means a heavier burden is going to be put on revenues from the actual town."
While the Wallingford Education Association, the school system’s largest union, has not expressed interest in concessions, central office officials are in talks with several unions. The central office will also re-approach all unions to request givebacks, potentially changing the proposal.
McKay and Hennessey agreed that the elementary school restructuring could prove beneficial for students. "This was looked at and compared," Hennessey said. "It totally enhances learning capabilities for students."
Menzo invited those in attendance Tuesday to attend Saturday’s budget workshop with not only concerns, but constructive ideas.
"This is just a proposal," he said.