Sunnier health insurance forecast to restore funds for Monroe’s schools

MONROE, CT — First Selectman Terry Rooney’s $1,187,000 reduction to the Board of Education budget’s rate of increase came at a time when both the school district and the town faced projections of soaring health insurance costs.

But now that revised estimates show the school district’s medical insurance increase will be about $844,000 lower, Monroe’s schools should get some things back, including a summer reading program, three lunch/recess paras, instructional supplies across the district and a literature lab at Masuk High School.

The Board of Finance held a workshop Thursday to review the $71,337,659 budget proposal to fund Monroe’s public schools in fiscal year 2024-25. The plan carries a 5.40 percent spending increase.

The Board of Education had asked for a 7.15 percent increase, before Rooney expressed concerns for the burden on taxpayers and reduced it by $1,187,000.

“I hate seeing the cuts, but we were in a tough budget situation,” Rooney said, recalling when officials were told medical insurance increases could be significantly higher.

The Board of Finance is also reviewing a $32,354,075 municipal budget proposal for town services. A final version of the entire town budget will be decided by voters at referendum on May 7.

Top priorities in red

On Thursday, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza presented a list of potential reductions from the education budget proposal, which he put together with his administration to meet the first selectman’s adjustment.

Items on the list were color coded by priority with red being the highest, identifying the things Kobza would most want to bring back if he could.

Among the red items were $22,100 for a summer reading program for elementary school students who are not in special education, but need more support; $25,000 for the literature lab at Masuk High School and $40,000 for instructional supplies across all schools.

Three lunch/recess paras make up a $29,500 reduction on Kobza’s list. He originally asked for five — two at Stepney, two at Fawn Hollow and one at Monroe Elementary School.

“We’re trying to keep two in, one for Stepney and one for Fawn Hollow,” Kobza said. “That kind of maintains equity across the district between the three schools.”

The lunch/recess paras would allow classroom para-educators and teachers to spend more time on instruction.

Those priority items total $116,600. Steve Kirsch, a finance board member, asked if the board could restore it, as well as partially or fully restoring $10,000 for software renewals and $75,000 for facilities — potential reductions which were lower priorities than the red items.

Restoring the last two at 50 percent would total $42,500, Kirsch said.

“I don’t want to make any final decisions tonight,” Chairman Michael Manjos said, adding more information and savings may be found later in the budget process. “But I have no problem adding the red items back in.”

There were other reductions Kobza said he felt comfortable with, including $75,000 for sports transportation, because All-Star Transportation added more bus drivers to cover afterschool trips, reducing the times the district would have to spend more money to hire an outside company to fill a void.

Kobza said be believes pre-K revenue could cover some of a $41,400 reduction for its transportation, and a $25,000 cut for professional development curriculum could be made up with a grant.

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