New Milford School Board approves $64.3 million budget proposal
NEW MILFORD — Town Council will be next to consider the schools’ proposed $64.3 million budget for 2018-19, which is 2.34 percent more than the current budget.
School board members approved the proposal at Wednesday’s meeting, after cutting nearly $159,000 from Superintendent Joshua Smith’s original proposal.
“We owe it to our students in this district that we provide the services, equipment and furniture they need to thrive,” Vice Chairwoman Tammy McInernry said.
Board members Angela C. Chastain, Joseph Failla and Wendy Faulenbach opposed the budget because they said the board could have made more cuts.
“I think we could have done better on sharpening our pencils,” Faulenbach said.
The cuts to Smith’s original proposal included about $95,000 in workers compensation, nearly $30,000 in property liability insurance, $20,000 for strategic planning and $15,000 in field trips.
Further cuts proposed but rejected by the board included $40,000 of the $80,000 allocated for Chromebooks, $9,000 for standing desks and kidney-shaped tables at Schaghticoke Middle School, and pulling $100,000 from the capital reserve to cover a portion of the operating budget.
The final proposal includes nine fewer teaching positions than the current budget, though two of those positions were already removed during this school year. A state-required bilingual teacher will be added.
Other board members argued that administrators had presented them with a lean budget and that additional cuts were unnecessary.
“To cut just to say we can cut is irresponsible,” said board member Bill Dahl.
Chairman David Lawson said the commitment to technology is important because students needed to be computer-literate. He added the board should trust the administrators on the best way to spend money at schools, and agreed with Smith that the district needs to wean itself from using the capital reserve for operating expenses.
He and other board members said New Milford faces challenges similar to those of surrounding towns, such as higher employee benefit costs and unexpected demand for outplacement of special education students. He also noted that most nearby districts asked for increases at least twice as large as New Milford approved.
School officials said they tried to keep the increase down by budgeting for few extra outplacements, warning that such a course could be risky.
But some board members countered that New Milford residents’ ability to pay isn’t as great as other towns such as Ridgefield.
“Every dollar increase to the budget is an increase to our tax payers in a difficult time,” Failla said.