The proposed budget for West Hartford Public School’s 2016-2017 academic year includes a $5.26 million overall increase.
By Ronni Newton
The annual budget season officially began in West Hartford with the presentation of the superintendent’s proposed general fund budget to the Board of Education Tuesday night.
“This is the most important task other than student safety,” Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore told the Board of Education. He said that he takes spending taxpayer money very seriously.
“We demand bright futures for our kids and we know that bright futures means different things for different kids,” Moore told the Board of Education. “This budget allows us to drive forward to provide the best education for all West Hartford students,” Moore said, so that they will be able to make the world a better place.
“I believe that this budget sets us up for the future very well,” Moore said.
There will be an estimated 9,703 students in West Hartford Public Schools next year, with 250 of them in pre-K including five pre-K classes at Charter Oak International Academy. Middle schools will continue to have instruction in a “teamed environment” and will have the added benefit of Mandarin Chinese as a language option. The high schools will continue to offer an exceptional selection of AP classes as well as a varied technical education curriculum and an arts program that’s “second to none.”
The 2016-2017 budget proposed by Moore, a total of $153,633.022, represents an increase of 3.55 percent ($5,263,098) over the 2015-2016 West Hartford Public Schools budget of $148,369,924.
The net increase according to the roll forward budget – the cost for 2016-2017 of providing the same services and programs as in the previous year – would result in a 3.65 percent ($5,409,606) increase.
“The roll forward is 85 percent we can’t do anything about – that’s salaries and benefits,” Moore said. The biggest driver, a total of $2.86 million, comes from salary increases. Moore said that the newly-ratified teachers’ contract, which takes effect on July 1, 2016, is “fair,” and was arrived at in good faith without fighting or backstabbing. Most employees will receive a 2 percent salary increase plus step movement. Total salary costs for 2016-2017 will be $101,109,631 under Moore’s proposed budget.
Medical expenses in this year’s budget have increased 5.73 percent. “Last year we had a really good health care year, the year before was really bad. This year we had an average health care year,” Moore said, mirroring national trends. The new teachers’ contract requires a high deductible health plan, which will limit the future growth of the health care budget.
Pension expense increases of $700,000 are based on actuarial valuation. Transportation costs will contractually increase by $310,000, not including new bus routes for Charter Oak. Other cost increases are “basically inflationary growth,” Moore said.
Moore’s proposed changes to the roll forward budget will reduce the total budget figure by 0.10 percent – primarily impacted by declining enrollment. Although an extra half team of two full-time equivalents (FTE) will be needed at the middle school level, elementary school FTE needs drop by eight and high school staffing is reduced by 3.9 FTE .
Enrollment can be difficult to project, but “this is our best guess, hope, estimate,” Moore said. In the current fiscal year, more middle school students enrolled than were projected, and if that happens again middle school staffing may need to be increased, he said.
Charter Oak is projected to add $462,000 to the budget from increased QuEST expenses as well as new bus routes.
Moore prefaced his presentation of the numbers with a comparison of West Hartford to other districts. “We moved up; we’re now 120th in the state,” out of 169 towns in terms of spending, he said. Last year the town was 125th. Providing what West Hartford does while spending comparatively so much less is a great example of efficiency, Moore said. “What we’re providing is second to none. I’ll stand by that number,” he said.
If West Hartford spent what comparable districts in “DRG B” do, it would increase the budget by $13.6 million. Spending at the state average would add $11.3 million. Spending at the average level of the state’s other large districts would cost $12.5 million, Moore said.
The proposed budget, Moore said, “represents all of West Hartford’s demands for us, for our kids,” while also respecting the taxpayers.
The Board of Education will be visiting schools throughout the district to answer any questions about the budget. The board will hold two budget workshops (March 9 and 23), and will also have a public hearing on the budget on March 23 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
The Board will adopt its budget on April 5, and the Town Council will approve the overall 2016-2017 budget on April 25, 2016.
Detailed budget documents will be available on the West Hartford Public School’s website.
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