Cheshire Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan presented his 2020-2021 Cheshire Public Schools operating budget proposal to the Board of Education and the rest of the Cheshire community on Thursday, Jan. 14, requesting an approximately $4 million increase over the current fiscal year.
Solan made his presentation via a virtual meeting, explaining that the initial internal request was for an 8% increase over last year’s budget, but that Solan pared that down before bringing it to the Board for review.
While laying out the exact finances of the recommendation, Solan began with an overview of the District and what the budget will help to fund.
“We provide resources and instruction to 4,212 students, mental health, nutrition, and medical care (for) students to access instruction,” he said. “We offer specialized services for all students to meet their potential and diverse opportunities for students to engage in activities outside of their curricular pursuits, and transportation to and from school.”
Solan’s suggested budget is $78,487,052, which represents a 5.22% increase, or $3,893,126 more than what was allocated to the Board by the Town Council last year.
“This year’s budget process was extremely unique,” he said. “...of course we are operating through the global pandemic, but while the pandemic is influencing us, it is not part of the operations budget.”
A majority of this year's request, according to Solan, will go towards replenishing the District’s medical benefits account, as well as covering increased maintenance to address long standing issues in Cheshire’s aging school buildings. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Solan explained that there were “a number of high-cost medical reimbursements that we could not avoid” in the coming year.
About 48.2%, or $1,877,059, of the overall budget increase would go towards replenishing the benefits fund, and about 6.6%, or $257,497, would be dedicated to building maintenance.
Teacher’s salaries account for 19.2% of the increase, with a request for $746,572 more in funding.
“We are really at rock bottom in terms of looking for funding elsewhere without reducing staffing,” he said. “Our budget is grounded in personnel and we don’t have anywhere else to go which obviously impacts class sizes and programs.”
Solan expects the District to bring in about $10,397,360 in revenue this year to help offset some of the costs.
Prior to the presentation, Board of Education Chairman Tony Perugini commented on the importance of this year’s operating budget.
“This has to be, in my opinion, the most important budget presentation in my entire time on the Board of Education,” he said, referencing the challenging year for all public education institutions due to the current global pandemic, and the difficulties educating children during such a difficult time.
One thing that was not commented on in detail was the supplemental budget Solan and his team plan to present in the near future. That request would address any costs associated with the impact of the virus.
In a recent conversation with The Herald, Solan explained that the supplemental could be used for items such as tent rentals, which were required this past fall when the District employed outdoor seating to help keep students social distanced during in-person instruction. If the pandemic is no longer causing such disruptions, such costs would no longer be required.
Despite the relatively difficult situation the District has found itself, Solan took the time to highlight some of the programs that in his opinion have been incredibly successful this year.
“For the entire state, Cheshire ranks fifth overall for special education according to the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) scores,” he mentioned, “which is something we are incredibly proud of despite the challenges we’ve faced.”
Throughout the next two weeks, the Cheshire Board of Education will be hosting multiple workshops in order to solidify the budget before it is officially sent to Town Manager Sean Kimball in February.
The next budget workshop will be held virtually on Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.