May 24, 2013
Written by Jake Kara
Monday, 13 February 2012 21:37
Finding some room to move spending into the current budget, the Board of Education Monday approved an $81.4 million 2012-13 budget, which is a $2.2 million, or 2.72% increase over the current $79.2 million budget.
The drop from the superintendent's proposed 3.26% increase is mostly thanks to $380,000 in electricity savings in the current 2011-12 budget relating to the news in recent months that CL&P had overcharged the school district $4.3 million over eight years.
"We are doing this in consultation with the Board of Finance," said Board of Education member Amy Shinohara, who said the finance board indicated the school board would not be expected to return the money originally appropriated for electricity bills within the current budget.
Before approving the budget, the school board split the $380,000 about evenly into accounts for books and for retirement-related health care benefits, where an additional $45,000 was trimmed due to recrently updated liability figures.
Former Board of Education chairman Keith Miller, speaking during the public comment session before the plan was announced, said the year-to-year increase, is a "gimmick" if it is based on the inflated electricity bill in the current budget and a reduced bill in the next one. He urged the board to "vote an honest increase."
Chris Murray was the only one to vote in opposition of the budget. He is concerned the retirement benefits are not funded aggressively enough.
He reiterated calls for the $4.3 million to be spent on funding the liability, which is currently being paid back over three decades, to comply with a change in accounting standards that call for more fully funding. The money is currently in the town's multi-year surplus and there has been debate over how to use it, ranging from buying down the mill rate increase to returning it to taxpayers.
"I took a lot of grief for my recommending that from my Republican buddies," he said, but insisted that he was unconvinced the liability would be properly funded in 26 years the town actuary has prescribed.
He called it "self-serving thinking," echoing his concerns at the last Board of Education meeting that the school district suffered from financial short-sightedness.
Mr. Murray remained alone in his objections.
"I don't know how you can say we're not properly accounting for this," Board of Education member Mike Raduazzo said, adding that the numbers were thoroughly vetted. He said future savings on the retirement liability to happen "on a going forward basis," with mindfulness as future benefits are determined.
School board member Irene Burgess asked if Mr. Murray was advocating that "if we have a mortgage, we never take a vacation until the mortgage is paid."
The budget now moves to the Board of Selectmen for a nonbinding opinion, and then the Board of Finance which decides on a school and town spending package to send to voters.
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