On Monday the SAD 44 School Board approved a proposed FY’20 school budget to send to voters next month. Bethel Citizen photo by Alisoni Aloisio

BETHEL — SAD 44 directors Monday unanimously approved a proposed FY’20 school budget of $11,765,996 to send to voters. If approved, it would be a $445,359 increase over the current budget.
That would translate to the following school tax impact increases for the district towns, according to Supt. Dave Murphy:
  • Bethel, 7.55%
  • Greenwood, 5.18%
  • Newry .87%
  • Woodstock, 7.99%.
A portion of those increases are due to a new local cost-sharing formula kicking in this year (see related story).
Murphy outlined the primary reasons for proposed increases to the budget itself, as well as ways to help offset them to some degree.
Some increases the district has little control over, Murphy said:Health benefit increases for staff of $92,501, due to a 6.85% Anthem rate hike. For several years there had been no increases.
  • An increase in the contingency account of $194,513. Teacher contracts are still under negotiation and the contingency would be used to cover increased salaries.
  • Special education transportation cost increases of $63,582, due an increased need for drivers and monitors to transport students out of district and homeless students.
  • A $20,000 increase to the Capital Improvement plan to refinish the Telstar track, which is required every seven years.
  • A Pre-kindergarten program cost increase of $40,000, because grant funding for the relatively new program runs out this year.
  • Region 9 vocational budget increase of $33,817, as determined by that school’s separate board.$7,000 for architect fees for a possible transportation garage project.
Other increases that are proposed as priority additions to the budget:
  • Addition of a Grade 5 teacher at Crescent Park School, returning CPS to having three classrooms at all grade levels K-5. Reductions in staff had been made to two grade levels in previous years when enrollment numbers dropped, but those numbers are up and the teacher appears to be necessary.
  • Expansion of the elementary art program from a .8 position to a full time position for $11,348, providing services to students particularly talented in the arts.
  • Addition of .4 educational technician position at the Woodstock Elementary School for $9,000 to cover the library.
  • Addition of a .4 social worker position for $24,707 at the elementary level, providing a full time position at CPS and a new part-time position at WES. Murphy said there is an increasing need statewide for such services.
  • An increase of $15,000 to look at options for managing the hot lunch program. Murphy said community members had requested consideration of improving the quality, and noted also that as in other districts, the program typically loses money each year.
As for offsets to the increases, Murphy noted that in addition to other smaller savings, the debt on a Telstar sewer and water project was paid off this year, saving $50,173.
He also said that he hopes to realize about $550,000 in carryover funds by applying an immediate freeze to budget spending, and additional savings  by using $150,000 in unallocated funds to lessen the tax impact. Those steps, he said would translate into an overall increase to the local share of the general fund budget of $406,460.State aid is also expected to increase by about $37,000.
The local share of the Adult Education budget is proposed  at $77,078, down about $3,000 from last year.
Bethel Director Danny Whitney said he was concerned about the tax increases to Bethel and Woodstock, noting that the increases due to the cost-sharing formula change will continue over the next 10 years.Murphy said those increase will not happen every year, rather every two or three years.
The district-wide budget meeting is expected to take place May 29 at Telstar, with a validation referendum on June 11.
More details of the budget are available at www.sad44.org, and there will be a district-wide mailing of information next month.

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