MONROE, CT — Town officials are wary of uncertainty in the petroleum market amid soaring gas prices and rising home heating costs. The Board of Finance is considering a $250,000 contingency account for the school district and municipal government to cover any shortfall during the year.
While the Board of Finance reviewed the $64.4 million Board of Education budget proposal Thursday night, Finance Board Chairman Michael Manjos said he does not want Monroe’s schools to be forced to cut services for something that is out of the district’s control.
“I think there is a big risk for fuel,” he said. “Come Christmas and wintertime, it could become more expensive. I don’t want to see the Board of Education take a hit because it’s cold outside.”
“The biggest risk is fuel,” Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza agreed.
Manjos said the town puts money aside for emergencies and other unforeseen expenses, while noting how special education costs were a problem for the school district in the past.
He suggested the $250,000 contingency for fuel and other finance board members agreed. “If it’s a bigger number, we can change it here,” Manjos said. “We’re kind of flying blind. I would certainly not want to cut services, because of fuel prices.”
Steve Kirsch, a finance board member, asked if the consortium Monroe Public Schools is part of can lock in a rate for fuel prices going into next fiscal year.
“The consortium we’re with, we’re not locked in, and I don’t think anyone wants to be locked in right now,” said Ronald Bunovsky Jr., finance director for the town and school board.
The superintendent’s initial request was for a $64.8 million operating budget, a 5.39 percent increase over the current $61.5 million budget. Then the Board of Education used grant money to pare it down to $64.4 million, a 4.75 percent spending increase.
First Selectman Ken Kellogg left the education budget alone when setting his $96.1 million town budget request. On Thursday, Manjos said the Board of Finance is also unlikely to cut it.
“It certainly is my position to try to keep it whole,” Manjos said at the budget workshop.
Board of Finance member Mary Hall asked Kobza if some line items in the current budget proposal have any cushion.
“We run on the conservative side,” Kobza said. “I don’t see any cushion.”
Bunovsky said there is a pending contingency for some retirements and there could be changes in transportation costs. Kobza said there is a contingency for health insurance now, because they are still waiting for the numbers to come in.
“In the past, we tried to get rid of the fluff in their budget,” Manjos said, “so there really isn’t a lot of room for fluff.”
Though student enrollment has risen sharply the past two years, Kobza said the district is “trending okay” right now. “Our kindergarten numbers are falling a bit back in line to where we were two years ago,” he said.
In the past, when enrollment was decreasing, Kobza said he and his predecessors reduced staffing. Total enrollment is now approximately 3,366 students and there are 267.15 certified staff positions.
In years when enrollment was comparable, 3,488 in 2012-13 and 3,379 in 2013-14, Kobza notes there were 13 to 17 more certified staff than the district has now.
If the school district could receive more funding, Hall asked Kobza where he would spend it. He said they would look at staffing to bolster offerings at Masuk High School and hiring assistant principals at the elementary school level.
On the flip side, if the district is forced to make cuts, Hall asked Kobza what his administration would do.
Kobza said he, like his predecessors, always try to keep reductions from affecting kids. The first things the district would try are spending freezes on supplies and maintenance accounts, according to Kobza.
But he warned that it could be a dangerous thing to do, because putting off maintenance can lead to paying for bigger ticket items down the road.