New Haven’s Board of Education will present and approve a finalized fiscal year 2017 budget by early June.
Darnell Goldson, a BOE member and co-chair of the board’s Finance and Operations Committee, said at a meeting Monday night that the board is waiting for feedback on the budget from school principals. The budget the board submitted last week to the alders, totaling $231.5 million, includes a $5 million increase in funding from the city from last year’s budget, the exact allocation of which is pending. While New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 expressed optimism about conversation surrounding the budget, several line items drew opposition from alders at the Monday meeting.
“In totality I think [the budget presentation] was a healthy discussion, both of our operating and capital budgets,” Harries said. “The alders emerged with a sense of the level of scrutiny and transparency this board has applied.”
Despite Harries’ optimism about the overall success of the budgetary presentation, he noted that some alders, especially Morris Cove Alder Salvatore DeCola, expressed serious concerns over certain elements of the budget. DeCola, who was in attendance at Monday’s Board of Education meeting, questioned the $5 million budget hike Thursday, arguing that his constituents were frustrated with tax hikes leading to what they felt were no noticeable improvements.
The budget proposal that sparked the greatest amount of debate was the relocation of the Strong School from its current location in The Hill to the campus of Southern Connecticut State University in West Rock. But Carlos Torre, a BOE member who has advocated consistently for the new Strong School, said the alders seemed more open to the proposed relocation than they had in the past. The proposed rebuilding would cost $10.7 million.
Goldson said one problem related to the budget was schools’ entering into contracts with outside consultants and construction-related vendors without the BOE’s approval. In the future, he said, vendors who begin any work in schools without formal contracts approved by the BOE must be held responsible for any costs incurred.
BOE member Edward Joyner, a former NHPS administrator, took Goldson’s proposal one step further. He said both vendors and school employees must be held accountable financially if work begins without BOE approval. BOE Vice President Alicia Caraballo added that going forward, no work in any school should begin before the board signs a contract.
“If you start something and you don’t have a signed agreement, that’s not a contract,” Joyner said.
Harries and the BOE also discussed protocol for filling teacher and administrative vacancies across the district. Despite initial confusion over the hiring process in NHPS among board members, Torre clarified that Harries oversees the process of filling vacancies. The BOE, however, is responsible for approving whomever is selected for a position in NHPS, he said.
Caraballo identified 13 new positions on the vacancy report Harries provided to board members. She asked that Harries provide the exact number of new positions created between July 2015 and the present in a future meeting.
Joyner urged caution and conciseness in creating new positions in NHPS due to the “dynamic fiscal position” in which the district currently finds itself. Due to limited resources, the district needs to ensure that new and existing positions are best serving NHPS students, Joyner said.
The BOE’s operating budget for fiscal year 2016 was $226.5 million.