Last night the Bristol Board of Education voted 6-3 to forward their proposed 2017-18 budget to the Board of Finance. The proposal, which would keep everything the same for the next school year, has a 7.03% increase due to fixed costs, personnel, and other required items.
The board has been basically flat funded by the Board of Finance for several years with additional money given to projects off-line so as to not impact the Minimum Budget Requirement that states that the municipalities cannot fund education at a level less than the previous year.
Vice Chair Karen Vibert, who chairs the Finance Committee, emphasized the role of the Board in fulfilling their No. 1 goal, which is to “secure the necessary funding for the Bristol Public Schools.’ She also noted that within our district reference group, Bristol has historically had the lowest per student expenditure, basically, consistently under-resourcing our schools.
Chairman Chris Wilson noted that the elected members and staff had met in workshop last week to review the raw data, and had instructed the Superintendent to come up with an alternative budget that showed only a 3% increase, which is what the Mayor and Board of Finance strongly recommended.
Faced with a daunting list of teacher cuts and program reductions, the Board decided to put forward the full program to illustrate the real cost of what it takes to run the school system. Wilson’s other concern was that a delayed vote would hinder the Board’s new finance director to assemble the full budget package in a timely manner.
Members of the public also spoke in support of the full budget.
Commissioner Tom O’Brien expressed concern that the Board had not been given the opportunity to meet with staff and bargaining units to explore potential cost-savings measures and advocated delaying the vote. Commissioners Scott and Caggiano concurred.
Commissioners Tina Taylor and Jen Dube, both with children in the elementary schools, stated that they could not support a 3% budget with the attached proposed reductions since they recognized them to be “devastating to the schools.”
Board of Education member Jeff Caggiano warned that there could be dire ramifications if the Board did not comply with the 3% request from City Hall.
Commissioner Karen Hintz inquired of Commissioner Caggiano if he perceived that as a threat. She also reminded members that they had all approved the various worker contracts over the past two years so the contractual impact of wages and benefits should not have been a surprise to any of them.
In recent years, the Board of Education Personnel Committee has instituted cost-sharing for health benefits with the various employee groups who currently now pay a percentage in the upper teens to low 20’s percentage of their insurance.
For comparison purposes, non-bargaining department heads at City Hall, including the mayor, pay a much lower cost-sharing percentage.
The final vote was 6-3 to forward the full budget to the Board of Finance.
A public workshop will be scheduled to hear the budget in early April.
Voting in favor were Commissioners Wilson, Vibert, Hintz, Taylor, and Grabowski, Democrats, and Jennifer Dube, a Republican.
Voting against were Commissioners David Scott and Jeff Caggiano, Republicans, and Democrat Tom O’Brien.
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