BERLIN – A $44.8 million budget was adopted by the Board of Education Monday, a 4.3 percent increase from the current fiscal year.
Parents, teachers and a student all spoke in favor of the high school’s behavioral and emotional program which accounts for most of the 17.35 percent budget increase in contracted services.
“Last year I sat on that side of the table and listened to the parents talk about what a positive influence it was on their children,” said Rachel Rochette, a former town councilor. “This year I stand here as a parent of a student who has benefited greatly from this program.”
Effective School Solutions (ESS), out of New Jersey, was implemented last year and funded with grant savings at the end of the year. This year the program was added in the budget for $275,000 as part of contracted services.
Jerry Barone, Executive Director of ESS, discussed the results of ESS over the last year with members of the board.
“I do believe the programs we offer are some of the best ones you’ll see,” Barone said.
Berlin is one of only eight districts in the state that uses ESS. Berlin High School currently has 18 students who participate in the program with half the students recognized as needing special education.
Linda Holian, director of special education in the district, said an estimated five students would have to be place out-of-district for a much higher cost if they were not in the ESS program.
“We do support the program and want to make sure it stays in place,” said Matthew Tencza, chair of the education board.
Along with an increase in contracted services, other items such as certified salaries, utilities, employee benefits, and transportation were all adopted with increases ranging from 3.25 percent to 15.11 percent.
Superintendent Brian Benigni said over $800,000 in new requests were not added to the proposed budget.
Over $1 million in reductions for the 2018-2019 fiscal year include elementary school assistant principal, team leaders, paraprofessionals, certified staff, middle school department heads, supplies, non-certified staff and other areas at all five schools and central office.
Benigni said the school budget has seen a five-year average increase of 1.94 percent which has impacted budgets moving forward.
“If we were able to receive an additional half a percent over the last five years we wouldn’t be sitting at a 4.3 (percent), we’d be sitting around a 2.3 (percent),” he said.
The adopted operational budget was previously amended from a 5.11 percent increase.
Members of the board decided to hold off on adoptions of the $365,000 Site and Building budget and $437,631 Capital Equipment budget. Both budgets had recent reductions of $100,000 and $105,000 due to the elimination of the need for new hoods in the consumer science room at the high school and lower bids for computer system updates.
Those budgets will be discussed at the next board meeting.