Board Budget Request Defers Initiatives, Braces for State Cuts
WETHERSFIELD - A largely salary and benefit-driven $58.2 million Board of Education budget request-a proposed 2.94 percent increase-was presented to the Town Council Monday night as Superintendent of Schools Mike Emmett and Board Chair Bobbie Hughes Granato highlighted the deferment of special education and English Language Learner (ELL) instructor hiring.

       “Ninety-eight percent of the budget is nondiscretionary, which leaves very little room for innovation and new initiatives,” Granato said from the podium.

       That includes the full realization of initiatives that are already in progress, as the $400,000 left out for technology purchases illustrate, they said.

       “This does hinder us on the 1-to-1 technology end, which is essential to preparing kids for the 21st century,” Granato said.

       On the ELL side, Emmett noted a forecasted increase in demand-illustrated by the fact that 19 percent of Charles Wright’s Kindergarten class falls under English Language Learner.

       “Our population is growing rapidly, and these students need this ELL teacher to be successful,” he said.

       The district is also deferring the hiring of a part-time social worker, as well as a world language teacher Emmett says will be needed as the Board expands the high school graduation requirement.

       “One of the things we did with our 21st century high school is we increased our expectations for graduation, so we do need to address this,” he said.

       Contractually-fixed salary adjustments come to an overall 3.16 percent this year, while pension obligations-going up over 7 percent-make up 14 percent of the proposed budget, according to Emmett and Granato.

       The district also saw a jump in energy costs-thanks largely to the near-constant use of the newly renovated Wethersfield High School-but Emmett says that he expects fuel savings to help offset that for this year.

       So far, the district is paying $60,000 more in energy costs than it was the previous year, Emmett reported.

       “We found that 25 percent of the electricity consumption [at the high school] occurred on the weekend, which is indicative of the amount of use that building has got,” he said. “Not only from our programs, but parks and rec as well. “[On weekends] that building is literally being used from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

       Councilor Jodi Latina asked about opportunities to bring in revenue for the district, to which Emmett pointed to the Transition Academy-operating out of a new home and already serving a tuition-paying student. Emmett said that he hopes to increase tuition enrollment-offered to students from other towns-as the district prepares to launch a marketing phase for the program.

       “I’ll be the first to tell you it doesn’t cover the full use of the building,” Emmett said of the Parks and Recreation fee.

       Meanwhile, the district has its eye on state revenues. The picture looks optimistic for now-Wethersfield came out of the Governor’s budget proposal as an anomaly, with a projected increase in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) revenue-but both state and local officials have said that they don’t expect it to survive the gauntlet of revisions sure to come as the legislature makes its own proposals.

       “This budget, given our economic times, it serves to maintain the services we provide to our students, our programs, and our staff,” Emmett said.