New Haven Public Schools is hoping Mayor Toni Harp will not budge on her budget.
The New Haven Board of Education’s Operations and Finance Committee met yesterday afternoon to hear about several contract renewals and policy proposals as well as the proposed budget for fiscal year 2016. Three weeks away from final approval from the Board of Education, the budget is in the final stages of revision, but it is largely dependent on the success of Harp’s proposed $3.3 million increase in education funding.
“It’s the biggest increase in education funding in a decade,” said NHPS Chief Financing Officer Victor De la Paz.
In the best case scenario, the budget would increase by $5,342,080 to $227,427,120, De la Paz explained. For this increase to happen, Harp’s proposed $3.3 million increase in education funding would have to pass the Board of Alders, and the district’s magnet schools would have to recruit 200 more students to secure an extra $1.6 million from the state Department of Education.
If successful, these two measures would increase the district’s per pupil spending by $120 to reach $9,942. The proposed budget also invests $3,128,000 in what De la Paz termed “priority areas,” which include adequate staffing, summer school and after-school programs.
To balance the budget, costs had to be cut to account for a projected $6.85 million increase in contractual expenses. De La Paz’s budget includes $1.75 million in savings from locking in a lower fuel price for school buses and making the district’s transportation more efficient. An additional $800,000 in savings came from general reductions in the budget.
The budget also includes a $500,000 decrease in the Food Service Subsidy — the amount the district pays for low-income students’ meals — and $1.5 million in savings from not rehiring certain posts. De La Paz stressed that this process of reducing staff would take several budget cycles and would be carried out on a case by case basis.
In addition to discussing next year’s budget proposal, the board reflected on successful savings made this year. In particular, Chief Operations Officer for NHPS William Clark described the school district’s recent efforts to cut costs for snow management. During the 2013–14 school year, with roughly 48 inches of snow, NHPS spent $825,000 on snow clearing. Despite snowfall in excess of 60 inches this school year, the district cut snow removal costs to $642,000. Clark attributed this success to the collaborative relationship between district workers and contractors.
“We’ve got to juggle a little — mix and match,” he said. Clark added that although the district used to subcontract snow removal, the district negotiated a deal with the workers’ unions, where district employees are now also involved in snow removal. This cooperation between the district employees and contractors, he said, made this winter a success by boosting morale and cutting costs.
Although the district saved on snow removal this year, attendees of yesterday’s meeting were critical of the district’s spending on hiring a finance resident with an MBA from a top school. The district’s hiring of the position last year was subsidized by a two-year grant from Broad Foundation Residency in Urban Education Program, which subsidizes roughly one-third of the hiring.
Still, attendees raised concerns about the roughly $80,000 that the district is paying for the remainder of the salary and benefits. Board of Education President Carlos Torre expressed concern about where this grant fits in with the district’s other priorities. He noted that as a relatively poor district, NHPS has to balance their limited budget on a number of priorities.
“Sometimes we feel like jugglers on a high wire,” he said. “One of our priorities has to be nurses. How many nurses can we get with that money?”
De La Paz agreed that the district’s portion of the salary is substantial, but he emphasized that hiring someone similarly qualified on the open market would be much more expensive than what NHPS is currently paying.
The Board of Alders will vote on the city’s final budget in May or June.