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Ed Budget Vote Could Mean Staff Reductions

"Are we budgeting too tightly? Does this change our ability to operate?" asks Board Chairman

 

The Greenwich Board of Education will meet on Thursday at Greenwich High School  to vote on their 2013-2014 Operating and Capital budgets.

Proposal at a 2% Increase

The 8-member board met last week to review the proposed budget and reached an unofficial consensus supporting Superintendent Dr. William McKersie's revised operating budget proposal of a 2 percent increase over the current year's budget.

McKersie's original budget called for a proposed year-over-year increase of 2.7% at $143,151,602. The revised plan comes in $1 million lower at $142,099,644.

While the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation approved their budget guidelines on Nov. 19, the town's fiscal body has been talking about the increasingly tight economic environment for several months mentioning a call for a 2% cap repeatedly.

Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarty said, "just as with any legislative body/Board in town, the BET doesn't 'speak' until it votes," when asked if the school board gave McKersie direction to submit a 2% budget with the BET's indication in mind.

"The Superintendent's budget was prepared with this tight fiscal environment in mind," said Moriarty of the 2.7% original proposal, which she pointed ouy that "the proposed budget included a reduction of central office staffing to offset some cost increases."

Once the BET officially voted, the school board did direct the administration to propose "additional changes to achieve a 2% operating budget increase over the current year."

Reorganization of Central Office

These additional budget adjustments represent a significant increase in proposed staffing reductions to $712k at "Central Office and school support."

When McKerise presented the budget adjustments last week, he indicated that he sent a letter "to all staff outlining the board strokes." From the beginning of the budget deliberations, the schools chief has been explicit that paramount to him in this process is "to treat personnel with dignity and compassion." He revealed that he would be meeting with the heads of all of the bargaining units.

Protect The Classroom

In confirming that "the changes will impact personnel and programs" with "minimal impact at the school" and a "vast majority of the cuts at central office," McKersie requested that during this "reduction mode" not to "let rumors move along."

In order to effectively approach such deep reductions and to "support excellent education in the schools," McKersie said that a reorganization of Central Office is being determined, which will be revealed in January.

McKersie's original budget envisioned the salary costs which represent over 80% of the district's costs, increasing 2% year-over-year with the largest object code increases in services other than personnel ($1.2 million or 7.5%) and supplies ($252,000 or 5.7%.) The latter two increases are driven by the investment in digital technology and revising the math program.

Benefits Part Of The Equation

During the last year's labor negotiations with the Greenwich Education Association (GEA) contract, it was touted that a savings in benefits due to the migration by teachers to health savings accounts would result in savings recorded at the town level budget and that this would be taken into consideration in future budget discussions.

Board member and Chair of the Negotiations Committee Peter Sherr repeatedly stated that he expected the BET and then BET Budget Chairman Michael Mason would “live up to their word” regarding this consideration. At the time of the contract vote in September 2011, Sherr characterized it as a "win/win" because it ultimately will "help the town to control health care costs" while addressing the concerns that teachers have with health care costs. (see Board of Ed OKs Teachers' Contract).

Fast forward a year and "the BET guidelines do not include the recognition of the impact of the GEA contract, which resulted in achieving savings in healthcare costs rather than lower increases in wage rates," confirmed Moriarty.

She explained that "since the savings in healthcare are recorded on the Town's budget, the BOE budget will carry the full impact of the higher increases in wages."

In looking back to the board vote, Moriarty said, "the BOE negotiated a contract that was in the best interests of the Town and received assurances by the participating BET and RTM members that future budget discussions will reflect that decision."

During last week's meeting, Board of Education member Steve Anderson, who voted against the GEA contract last year, ran through some back-of-the-envelope figures to further demonstrate that the district is getting little to no credit for the savings.

With the teachers' general wage increase slated to increase 2.5% next year, reducing the budget may seem to require either gutting the new initiatives or reducing headcount in the district. During last year's review of the new labor contract, Anderson and others raised this as a concern.

A Budget To Meet Goals And Needs

The board will also vote on the district's Capital Budget of $10 million, which is approximately $2 million higher than the $8 million expected by the BET.

At the conclusion of the budget discussions, Moriarty reminded her fellow board members that whatever budget is approved to bear in mind that the district will "need to defend this budget," but also it needs to be one with which the district can meet its goals. "We are cutting resources and we have to do so knowingly," she stated. 

In other board business, the agenda includes:

The meeting, which will start with a recognition of the Greenwich High School Girls Swiming and Diving Team as the Connecticut State Champion Girls Swimming and Diving Team, will begin at 7 p.m.

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