School Board Freezes Budget to Combat Deficit
WETHERSFIELD - A Board of Education budget freeze is expected to yield around $100,000 in savings as the district grapples with a $245,000 deficit, along with the recently-announced $152,000 reduction in the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant for the current year.

       “All essential bills get paid, but the nonessentials are being carefully scrutinized to ensure we have enough at the end of the year,” Emmett said during a conversation in his office last Wednesday.

       Board of Education Chair Bobbie Hughes Granato and Wethersfield Public Schools Business Manager Matt Kozaka were also in attendance.

       The Governor-implemented adjustment was prompted by the Office of Policy Management’s (OPM) need to find $20 million in Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies (MORE) savings it had budgeted for the fiscal year, according to a letter sent to legislators by OPM Secretary Benjamin Barnes.

       For Wethersfield, that means a 1.6 percent reduction in the $9.5 million ECS projection it had based its school budget planning on.

       “Obviously, that’s a significant amount [reduced] and it’s effective this year,” Emmett said.

       The majority of savings generated by the freeze were from deferring large maintenance projects, Kozaka said.

       Other areas included technology repair-averted in some cases due to the efficiency of replacement laptop devices purchased just over a year ago, Emmett said.

       The district will also be deferring the purchase of custodial supplies, he said.

       Last Wednesday, Emmett and Granato were still hoping for some additional relief in the form of a state-level recalculation of the statutory Minimum Budget Requirements, (MBR) which the town was said to be $240,000 shy of. Last year’s ECS increase, and not any cut in funding by the Council-they approved a 1.9 percent increase this past Spring-shifted the obligation level, but the recent reduction in the grant moved it back, Montinieri and Emmett have said.

       That brings the remaining amount to around $88,000, and on Friday, the two sides had discussed asking the state to waive that based on CIP expenditures related to a school security camera project, Montinieri reported Tuesday.

       In an email, Granato said that the final determination in that regard would be made based on a reevaluation of the Board’s “actual deficit”.

       “With that said, we did promise that, if there’s still a deficit at year’s end-which I don’t think there will be-we’ll remember their cooperation on the MBR and do the best we can to work with them,” Montinieri said over the phone. “The way they’re approaching their deficit is the right way.”

       After learning of the ECS reduction, Montinieri had expressed a desire to see current class sizes maintained. Emmett said that he does not expect the district to have to look to teacher layoffs in the current fiscal year, although it may look for savings through attrition like retirements.

       Meanwhile, the district faces the escalation of budget drivers such as Wethersfield High School renovation-related debt service, energy costs increases-15 percent across the district this year-and a 10 percent hike in its OPEB contribution obligation.

       While the high school is more energy efficient, it is also constantly in use-even on weekends-Emmett said.