Next year’s costs for schools ‘gigantic’

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Jan. 19, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Superintendent Robert Wolfe used words like “gigantic” and “very unpleasant” to describe the increases in costs facing the school district when he presented a 2008-09 budget of more than $28 million to the Board of Education this week.

The preliminary budget represents a 6.88 percent increase over this year. Wolfe said that most of the jump is due to higher fixed costs, which include teacher salaries, health care and energy.

“Anyone who is a homeowner today clearly understands the impact of energy and clearly anyone who purchases health care understands the increases we’re seeing there,” he said.

Even with the nearly 7 percent increase, some of the numbers Wolfe presented Thursday were not set in stone, as the teachers’ contract expires June 30 and the town has not yet fixed its energy prices for the coming fiscal year.

The district and the teachers have not agreed on a new contract and will enter arbitration at the end of the month.

Wolfe used an estimate based on the average teacher packages of 30 other towns to determine the figure in the budget.

Wolfe called energy costs the “real wild card” in figuring out a next year’s budget.

Currently, he said, the district pays $2.28 a gallon for heating oil and he is expecting that to increase to at least $3 a gallon.

The schools use mainly oil, as well as some electricity and natural gas, for heating.

In addition to the increases in fixed costs, the school district is hoping to add a number of teaching positions at all levels.

The budget includes the elimination of one second-grade teacher and half of the kindergarten duties at Jerome Harrison Elementary School, because of changes in class size.

It has an increase of one sixth-grade teacher at North Branford Intermediate School and several positions at the high school.

Wolfe said that each year, hundreds of high school students who want to take art, computer science and family development courses are not able to due to an insufficient number of teachers.

The Board of Education will hold workshop meetings at 7 p.m. Thursday and at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at Totoket Valley Elementary School to go over the preliminary budget.

“I encourage the board to deliberate, discuss, but not jump to decisions before more and more of these soft numbers turn to hard,” Wolfe said. “There are numbers there we don’t control and in some cases the town doesn’t even control.”

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