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Friday, April 20 News

Ed board approves 6.6 percent budget increase

The New Canaan Board of Education voted Jan. 22 to approve an $82,414,404 operating budget request for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The amount represents a 6.58 percent increase over the 2013-14 budget. The school district originally requested a 6.74 percent increase earlier this month, but after some adjustments, the board voted unanimously to cut $160,640 from the original request.

The difference is the result of a more in-depth examination of the budget and a reclassification of the salary line. Nancy Harris, the district's interim director of finance and operations, said the district went through the salaries of each person to make sure people who do different tasks are not being counted twice, people who are leaving are removed from the budget, people who are on a leave and will come back this year are accounted for, among other checks.

The budget is now "much more exact in terms of how we account for the time (employees) are spending at different tasks," Harris said.

The school district's current operating budget is $77,323,274. For 2012-14, the schools requested a 5.25 percent increase, which was reduced to 3.75 percent.

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The board will present its request to a joint meeting of the Town Hall and the boards of Finance and Selectmen on Thursday, Feb. 6.

The district is also asking for nearly $5.5 million, an increase of more than 400 percent, in its capital budgets for facilities and technology projects.

In the first read of the budget Jan. 6, the schools requested $6.3 million for capital projects.

The largest chunk of that money, $2.75 million, would go toward a window project at South Elementary School. In the original request earlier this month, the estimated cost of the project was $3 million, but the number was reduced after the district was provided with a more accurate projection, according to Harris.

The project would replace or renovate windows that are more than 20 years old, Harris said.

The capital request for information and communication technologies went from $1.54 million to $1.15 million -- an approximate $389,000 difference -- after an outside expert identified more cost-effective equipment and services the ICT department is seeking to bring in 2014-15, Harris said.

In each of the past two fiscal years, the schools' capital budget funds were just a little more than $1 million.

The major driver of the operating budget is the cost of health insurance obligations, which account for about 3.1 percent of the overall proposed increase.

The increase comes from the district's decision to fully fund the net expected health insurance claims, which is estimated at $2,627,028. The total cost of health insurance expenditures for 2014-15 is $11.6 million.

Other main drivers of the proposed operating budget are three new hires, improvements on information and communication technology and student program enhancements.

The budget also covers costs for materials, meeting contractual obligations and about $500,000 in restorative and preventive maintenance.

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A good portion of the operating budget increase, as Superintendent Mary Kolek has said, is the result of union contract obligations and maintenance projects that were intentionally delayed in the past and are now "coming due."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

Nelson Oliveira|Education/general assignment reporter