On Monday, the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee approved the school administration’s budget request for the 2013-2014 school year, marking the first time in memory that the district will not seek an increase from the previous year’s approved budget. In fact, the total budget request that will be presented to the Joint Finance Committee, $53,685,074, is $300,000 less than what the JFC approved for the district’s 2012-2013 budget.
Local aid, the amount that both towns will be asked to fund, is $33,720,870, an increase of $333,870 from last year. Of that, Bristol will pay $22,039,592, and Warren’s share is $11,681,278, an amount $484,000 less than last year. Bristol will be responsible for an additional $800,000 — $600,000 of that is due to a population shift based on enrollment as of Oct. 1, 2012; $200,000 is due to the loss of state funding.
The budget was introduced on Thursday, Feb. 21, at a budget/facilities subcommittee meeting.
“Coming in with a budget lower than we did last year, that’s pretty remarkable,” said Superintendent of Schools Melinda Thies at the subcommittee meeting. “I feel that we’ve done some of the hard work that’s protected the district and the towns.”
Relying on the District Management Council, a ‘think tank’ designed to help school districts become more efficient, the school department was able to implement changes in areas such as transportation, food services and supply vendors. The district also continued to streamline and redesign personnel, an effort that began during the 2010-2011 budgeting process. As a result, 19 full-time equivalent positions were either eliminated or incorporated into other positions to realize $1.1 million in savings.
Ms. Thies praised the efforts of Council 94 and the Bristol Warren Education Alliance to help the district realize those savings through contract negotiations. After school administrators voluntarily accepted a salary freeze for the past two years, both unions conceded to a three-year pay freeze, with salaries going up “less than one percent” even with the step increases. The district also switched to a healthcare partnership. Under the new plan, teachers will absorb more of the health care costs, with the district’s cost for employee health care benefits going up less than one-half a percent.
Additional savings were realized with a 7.44 percent reduction in other purchased services, and a 6.14 percent reduction in supplies and materials, excluding educational materials.
“In no way will students be impacted,” said Director of Finance and Administration Pauline Silva.
The budget for equipment did increase 8.76 percent. Still, the subcommittee managed to reduce their budget request more than one-half percent from last year.
Last year, Warren refused to pay its share of the budget increase, instead opting to flat fund the district. The town is currently being sued by the Bristol Warren School Committee to compel the Town of Warren to pay its share.
“The budget is based on what was appropriated last year. The fact that some paid or not paid is a separate issue,” said Paul Silva, a member of the school committee.
Hoping to engage dialogue on the budget before it was submitted to the full school committee for a vote, the subcommittee invited Bristol’s town administrator, Warren’s town manager and both towns’ council members, as well as the general public, to attend the meeting. Only Bristol Town Administrator Tony Teixeira and Bristol Town Councilors Timothy Sweeney and Edward Stuart Jr. attended the meeting.
By law, the Joint Finance Committee has 30 days from when the school committee approves the district’s budget to convene and accept the request for consideration.