Officials expect to lower education budget before it reaches voters

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Monroe Town Hall is located at 7 Fan Hill Road.

First Selectman Ken Kellogg has yet to do a thorough review of the Board of Education’s $60 million budget proposal, but both he and Board of Finance Chairman Michael Manjos expressed their belief that the spending increase is still too high for voters to pass at the referendum on May 5.

On Tuesday, the school board cut $500,000 from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jack Zamary’s proposal, which had carried a 5.7 percent increase over the current $57.2 million budget. That reduced the increase to 4.88 percent.

“My initial feeling is that number would still present a significant challenge at referendum,” Kellogg said Friday.

The first selectman is still crunching numbers for the municipal spending plan for fiscal year 2020-21. During the Town Council’s first meeting in February, Kellogg will present a town budget proposal that will include education and municipal spending.

He can revise the Board of Education budget before that. Then the Town Council can make recommendations, but no changes, before sending it to the Board of Finance.

At a time of special education and health insurance deficits, Manjos expects a higher increase for Monroe’s schools than the just under two percent the district received last year, though lower than the school board’s 4.88 percent request.

“I was happy they made some cut,” he said of the Board of Education. “I was afraid they would push it through and leave it all to us. I think they realized it had to be adjusted and hopefully we can work together in cutting it back to a number that could be passed.”

Manjos said it is not fair to say the school district has had budget deficits from being underfunded.

“They mis-budgeted their insurance,” he said. “We’re going to do a deep dive to see how. We built up a contingency on the town side, because special education is something they can’t control.”

In the current budget, the school board is dealing with a growing deficit which is now over $1.5 million. Board members are still trying to get a final estimate.

The Board of Finance has a contingency account of about $1 million, which could be used to offset the shortfall.

Manjos said the Board of Education also put in a negative plug number of $300,000 with the intention of finding savings during the school year to make up for it, then did not address it.

The superintendent and Frank B. Connolly, the interim finance director for Monroe public schools, are both suspended with pay pending an investigation by David Ryan of Ryan & Ryan LLC.

At the last Board of Education budget workshop, Chairwoman Donna Lane said, “in order to ensure a fair process for Dr. Zamary, first I would like to state that I have no knowledge of any criminal issues related to Mr. Ryan’s investigation. Second, it is my belief that the focus of the investigation is related to budgetary, oversight and leadership issues. This is the only comment I have at this time. Thank you.”

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza is serving as acting superintendent and Town Finance Director Ronald Bunovsky will be splitting his time to help Central Office.

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