By Elizabeth Reinhart/Zip06.com • 04/25/2021 03:47 p.m. EST
As the annual meeting for Deep River’s proposed fiscal year 2021–’22 (’22) budget approaches on Monday, May 17, the Deep River Board of Education (BOE) was informed at a special meeting on April 21 that the elementary school’s budget could see its $195,576 requested increase reduced by $90,000 by the Board of Finance.
The formal request for reduction, and finalized figure, is anticipated at the Tuesday, April 27 meeting of the finance board, where members will vote to move the proposed town budget, which includes the town’s education costs, to a public hearing to be held on Wednesday, April 28.
The Deep River BOE approved a proposed $5,659,731 budget for the ’22 school year on March 18. It was a $195,576, or 3.58 percent, increase from current year. Most of the increases in the proposed budget were due to contractual obligations related to staffing and employee benefits.
Another main driver was the school board’s portion of shared costs in Supervision District. The Supervision District budget for fiscal year ’22 was approved by the Supervision District Committee and the Joint Board of Education on April 1.
“If you were to just look at the cost of Deep River Elementary School and if you were to take the supervision component out of it, you were looking at a change of about $10,000 over last year, it was something close to that number, which is about as close to a flat budget as you can get,” said Superintendent of Schools Brian White at the meeting.
The elementary school budget for the ’22 school year did not contain any significant new spending initiatives but rather attempted to maintain current staffing and programming.
Administrators said that with such a bare-bones budget, the process to eliminate $90,000 in expenditures, which was the request by town officials as of the April 21 meeting, will pose a challenge.
“I think one of the consequences of having such a lean budget, there is no obvious go-to place in the budget to find savings of this size when you receive direction to cut,” said White.
During the April 21 meeting, White and Finance Director Robert “Bob” Grissom presented a preliminary plan for reductions in several different categories of the ’22 budget for Deep River Elementary School that included elimination of a food services staffing position. It also called for reductions to costs associated with school-wide enrichment and school contributions to the cost of field trips, among other areas.
“Unfortunately, you do have to impact, in this case, staffing and programs to get to $90,000 and that is a hard thing to do,” said White.
The most vocal critic of the reduction at the April 21 meeting, Marc Lewis, a member of the BOE, asked about the decision making as it related to the categories chosen for reductions and the loss of student enrichment programming. He also discussed the consequences of reducing the ’22 budget.
“This is government accounting, right? So, there is no going back. So, once we start giving back $90,000 on our budget, we are never going to get that money back,” said Lewis.
Further discussion among board members centered on the town’s considerations related to the mill rate and the budget approval process.
Lewis described the request for a reduction by the Board of Finance as “a misstep on their part.”
“We didn’t lose any houses over the last few years and that is what your mill rate is based on. I don’t know what they are thinking and what they are doing, but I have to stand firm and still say it publicly that $90,000 is just a ridiculous number, especially to come out of education,” said Lewis.
He also discussed the importance of education and the role of the board.
“We shouldn’t just sit here and take a $90,000 hit. There has to be some type of reaction that we can propose or go back to these people and say, ‘This is just not right.’ Education is the foundation of a society and if we’re not educating our students then what are we doing here?” said Lewis.
BOE Chair Miriam Morrissey discussed the importance of voicing concerns regarding the reduction at the town’s public hearing on the budget on April 28.
Vice Chair Robert “Rob” Ferretti pointed out that “there are a lot of competing interests, as well as things that are being promised to other groups in town, like the Fire Department. They are trying to take a limited resource and spread it evenly, but I can’t agree with you more,” he said, in responding to Lewis.
The annual town meeting in Deep River, where citizens can vote to approve or reject the ’22 proposed budget either in-person or online, is planned for Monday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m.