Proposed education budget discussed at public hearing

Screenshot from Winsted's education budget hearing on Monday, March 29.
Screenshot from Winsted's education budget hearing on Monday, March 29.

WINSTED — Winchester Superintendent of Schools Melony Brady-Shanley and Gilbert School Superintendent Anthony Serio presented their proposed budgets for Fiscal 2021-2022 at a public hearing on Monday, March 29 at The Pearson School.
There were an estimated 40 residents at the hearing, all seated socially distant from each other.
The meeting was also broadcast via Zoom for a virtual audience.
However, most of the March 29 meeting could not be heard over Zoom due to problems with technology.
Many of the speakers at the meeting, including Brady-Shanley, Serio, and Town Manager Robert Geiger, were mostly inaudible during much of the meeting.
For the Winchester School District’s Fiscal 2021-2022 budget, Brady-Shanley is proposing a budget of $20,558,504, an increase of $596,818 or 2.99 percent from this fiscal year.
“I know that in this time right now, during the time of Covid, it’s a bit difficult to ask for anything,” Brady-Shanley said. “I’m not asking for us. I’m asking for the kids and the programming that they need to be successful. This budget has been developed with fiscal responsibility and balance for our students’ needs. For the past seven to eight years we have been giving you a lot of bang for a little bit of buck. Nothing that we do is without thought or care.”
According to Superintendent Brady-Shanley, the budget drivers for Fiscal 2021-2022 are a $363,492 increase in the personnel line item, a $286,055 increase in the Gilbert School’s tuition, a $153,980 increase in the supplies and equipment line item, and a $29,154 increase in special education out of district tuition.
Earlier in the month, Congressman John Larson announced that the school district would be receiving $1,840,000 from American Rescue Plan.
However, in an email to the Winsted Phoenix, Superintendent Brady-Shanley wrote that the district would not be using the funds to pay for the proposed budget increase for Fiscal 2021-2022.
“The funds will be tied to specific usages as allowed in the bill; supplanting is not allowed,” Brady-Shanley wrote in an email after the hearing. “When we receive one-time grants such as this we must be very careful as to not create a ‘cliff.’ A cliff will develop when used to offset the budget however no funds will be available the following year. This creates either the cliff which requires you ‘fill’ the void of funds or cut the program/items that you used the money for. The better option is to use the funds to support items that will outlast the funds (ie. upgraded HVAC system at Pearson). This also will save down the road as we will not need to seek funds from the town to support this type of capital improvement.”
As for Gilbert, which handles the school district’s 7th through 12th grades, Superintendent Serio is proposing a tuition of $7,345,297 from the Winchester School District.
The total proposed budget for Gilbert is $7,843,928 for Fiscal 2021-2022, an increase of $162,240 from the previous fiscal year.
The total proposed budget includes an $284,751 increase in salaries to $5,003,565, an $116,041 increase in employee benefits to $1,396,852 due to an anticipated 7.5 percent increase in medical insurance costs, a $54,439 increase in information and communication general expenses to $620,408, and a $216,244 increase in facility improvements to $462,544.
In his original budget presentation, Superintendent Serio noted that the increase in the facility improvements budget is due to recommendations from the school’s Building and Grounds subcommittee for various projects, including a roof replacement for the school’s auditorium, along with upgrades to the school’s phone system, security systems, and bleachers in the main gym.
While the hearing was supposed to be primarily about the proposed school budget, there was some discussion about the proposed municipal budget.
Earlier in March, Geiger proposed a budget for Fiscal 2021-2022 that includes up to $550,000 in higher property taxes, and will, if approved at the town’s budget referendum, will give the town its first mill rate increase in five years, from 33.54 to 33.94.
At the hearing, Geiger said that, since he was hired as town manager, he has tried to put together a proposed budget that does not have a mill increase.
“I think we’ve worked hard to try to maintain what we have,” Geiger said. “We are trying to put a budget together so [the school system] has enough. We’ve been very conservative, but we have worked hard to maintain a decent fund balance and to pay our own way. The better the schools are, the better the grand list is. We’re doing what we can to help the school and not raise taxes.”

There will be a public hearing for the proposed town budget on Monday, April 5 at 7 p.m., and the annual town meeting will be held on Monday, May 10 at 7 p.m.
As of press time, locations and virtual meeting logistics have not been determined yet for both meetings.

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