At last week’s budget meeting at Cos Cob School, the Greenwich Board of Education members started to provide insight into the areas that they would like to look at further. However, they only have one more meeting dedicated to reviewing the 2013-2014 budget, which is on Dec. 13, before their final vote on Dec. 20.
Ben Branyan, managing director of operations, prepared and reviewed a one page “overview” of “what’s driving the budget” of $143,151,602. The proposed budget is 2.7% or $3,794,382 over the current year’s budget of $139,357,220.
Nearly 53% of the budget’s increase is embedded within the six line items of Salaries expense ($2,006,277.) In addition, there is $1,126,552 targeted for digital learning and $628,460 tied to a new math curriculum. Branyan explained that this leads to a mere $33,093 left to be further explained.
Chairman Leslie Moriarty acknowledged the “financial environment,” but stated that the board has “a responsibility to meet the needs of the students.”
Two main categories were discussed at the budget meeting:
1. What the district's target budget should be — its current proposed increase of 2.7%, BET guidelines at 2.0%, Moriarty's back-of-the-envelope calculation of 1.9%, 1% or flat.
2. Areas that individual board members raised as possible targets for cost efficiency gains or in some cases, increased services.
Moriarty said that everything is on the table when considering the budget and her fellow board members literally followed that lead offering up varying areas to examine including: the current coordinator program, user fees for athletics, social workers, psychologists and building utilization among others.
In a letter sent to staff, Superintendent Dr. William McKersie described the seriousness of the situation. "Budget cuts of any level require serious and careful consideration. When the possible cuts reach $1.0 million or higher, the implications for the district are far reaching," McKersie wrote.
Further explaining the necessity to identify efficiencies and possible cuts, the superintendent pointed to an "emerging clarity on the difficult financial situation facing Greenwich (one that is occurring in towns and municipalities across the nation). The BET has made it clear that the First Selectman and BOE must determine how to eliminate a major gap in Greenwich's projected budget—a gap driven by rising costs in pensions and health care (two areas that must be fully funded for our current and future welfare.)"
As the board will embark on the difficult task of exploring budget scenarios, McKersie assured the staff that the Administration would continuing to communicate developments in the budget process, "seek solutions that advance" the mission of GPS as well as to "seek to treat all personnel with compassion and dignity."
Next questions for the administration were due into the Moriarty by Dec. 2. The RTM Education Committee is meeting on Monday, Dec. 3 with the Board of Education Operating Budget on their agenda. Moriarty indicated that she would be reaching out to First Selectman Peter Tesei and the BET to seek clarification on the need to explore a flat budget.