School Board Proposes Flat Budget as Costs Rise and State Aid Dwindles
Town ponders an increase in property taxes
By Wiley Wood
If the town accepts the budget passed by the Board of Education on Feb. 8, it will be the fifth year in a row that the Botelle School has been flat-funded or seen an actual decrease in its funding.
The Board of Finance, which coordinates the budgets of the town’s different departments, has the final say on Norfolk’s spending and will meet with the Board of Education in the second week of March to examine the school’s budget proposal.
“We’re putting forward a budget with a 0 percent increase,” says School Superintendent Mary Beth Iacobelli. “Meanwhile salaries, benefits and contractual services have all gone up.”
The town has struggled to keep its education budget flat as the state has slashed its support to municipalities. Last year, Norfolk’s education subsidy was cut by $340,000, or 90 percent. In response, the Board of Finance reduced Botelle’s spending by $30,000, and distributed the rest of the shortfall across the town’s budget.
In December 2016, Governor Malloy announced a further, midyear reduction to the state’s Education Cost Sharing, known as ECS, and Norfolk’s allotment was docked a further $14,000, or 35 percent.
“We’ve tried not to add insult to injury,” says Iacobelli. “The board understands that the town is in a difficult position.”
In her efforts to shave costs, Iacobelli tries to find items as far as possible from the education program. “At the same time,” she says, “if cuts go deeper than flat funding again, we’ll be looking to reduce staff, without impacting students.”
Last year, Botelle eliminated its Spanish-language program. It also deferred maintenance and renovation projects to the school building.
Norfolk budgeted $2.52 million for Botelle School last year, more than a third of its $6.5 million total budget.
Michael Sconyers, chairman of the Board of Finance, characterizes school spending in Norfolk as high. In 2015, the town spent $20,000 per pupil, according to the state Office of Policy and Management, which ranks Norfolk in the top 10 percent of Connecticut towns for per pupil spending.
“If we’d been really hardhearted, we could have reduced the school budget by $340,000 last year,” says Sconyers, referring to the Minimum Budget Requirement, a state regulation that allows towns to reduce school spending by only as much as they have lost in education funding.
In the coming fiscal year, Norfolk is expected to lose a further $22,000 in ECS funds, but Sconyers expressed a qualified approval for Botelle’s flat budget.
In his bid to close the state’s $1.7 billion deficit, Governor Malloy is proposing to shift a third of the cost of public school teachers’ pensions from the state to municipalities. If passed, this will add another $150,000 to Norfolk’s education bill.
And Norfolk’s share of the Northwest Regional 7 costs is increasing by $107,000 next year, prompting Sconyers to say that an increase in taxes is inevitable.
The Board of Finance will meet with the Board of Education in Botelle School’s Hall of Flags on March 8, at 7 p.m.