Yale Daily News

The Board of Education this week began the annual process of reviewing budget requests from New Haven Public Schools.

In light of a funding shortage, NHPS administrators this week proposed a preliminary budget that would require $10 million from the city. But after initial discussions with school board members, President of the Board of Education Darnell Goldson said he can almost guarantee that the size of the request will decrease before the March 1 deadline to submit a proposal to the mayor.

“None of them, not one of them so far has supported requesting $10 million from the city,” Goldson said. “The reason why is we want to first make sure that we are doing what we need to do to cut our expenditures.”

At Monday’s Board of Education Finance & Operations Committee meeting, William Clark, the district’s chief operating officer, said the school system would require a $19.3 million increase in its budget to a total of $207 million. The school system hopes to cover that increase by requesting $10 million from the city and by cutting expenses.

Clark said the Finance & Operations meeting was just the first step in the formal budget process. At the meeting, he said, he reviewed a history of the Board of Education’s budget at the finance meeting, discussing last year’s budget and the school board’s current financial situation.

“You have two major themes. One is that we have a challenge now, that we are working through a deficit that we are working to try to balance this year,” Clark said. “And as you project that going forward … you basically have a challenge next year as well, which is compounded by inflation, salary and costs increases.”

Under the city charter, after the budget is approved by the Board of Education, it heads to the mayor’s office to be reworked and then added to the city budget that the mayor presents each year to the Board of Alders.

Last year, the Board of Alders refused to grant an $8 million increase in the Board of Education’s budget, and ultimately approved a $5 million hike, according to Clark. Goldson, a former alder for West Rock, said he does not know how willing the Board of Alders will be to provide funding for the city’s education system this year.

Clark said the $3 million gap in what the Board of Education requested and what the Board of Alders approved last year presented an early challenge to balancing the budget last year. At the state level, Clark said, the school system was fighting for a “status quo” of funding and a slight increase through various state grants. Ultimately, he said, the final state budget passed in November made some cuts to the school system’s funding, although they were not as severe as they could have been.

In the coming weeks, Clark said, the school board will look at any adjustments it can make before moving forward with the budget. Such changes could include grant funding, expense reductions or some combination of the two.

“We do not have all the details, but we have sense of some of the stuff we want to see happen, such as reductions of overtime, reducing part-time staff,” Goldson said.

But Clark, Goldson and former President of the Board Ed Joyner all agreed that determining how to cut expenditures most efficiently would be a difficult task to accomplish before the March 1 deadline.

In an interview on Thursday, Joyner said the first step to determining a new budget will be to evaluate the current one, focussing on ways to improve efficiency.

“Funding is inadequate and we must find ways to increase funding while decreasing expenditures,” Joyner said. “Efficiency and waste-avoidance are critical.”

In the past, Goldson said, Mayor Toni Harp has been involved in the school board’s budget approval process and still made changes after the recommended budget was proposed. Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Harp plans to be involved in the board’s budget deliberations before the final proposal is presented to the Board of Alders.

“As a member of the Board of Education, she votes on the [Board of Education] budget that is prepared for the coming fiscal year, but, at the same time, she has the perspective of seeing that the Board of Education budget as part of the overall Mayor’s Proposed Budget,” Grotheer said.

New Haven Board of Education meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday of each month.

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu