With less than two weeks before a proposal is due to the mayor, the New Haven Board of Education’s budget is still in the works.
At a New Haven Board of Education Finance and Operations Committee meeting on Tuesday, board members and school district administrators continued the budget negotiation process ahead of the March 1 deadline to submit a budget to Mayor Toni Harp. Although the committee has yet to make any formal decisions, tough calls lie ahead — most likely in the form of school consolidations, reductions in teachers and staff, and program cuts.
“I like to say that our public education funding is a 365-day job,” said William Clark, chief operating officer for New Haven Public Schools. “You’ve got to adjust, you’ve got to respond, you’ve got to move stuff around. And when you have tough financial times, it’s just more juggling.”
In a unanimously adopted motion at the Feb. 12 board of education meeting, the board called on the New Haven Public Schools’ administration to provide the board’s Finance Committee with a $10 million reduction recommendation, including a summary of transportation, part-time personnel costs and contractional services reductions by the next board of education meeting. The goal is to reduce that budget to a little under $200 million.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Clark presented a list of suggested cuts to the schools’ budget, totalling $13 million. He said the list was the result of a collaborative effort between principles, administrators and Board of Education staff. Proposed expenditure cuts would come from a reduction in teachers, administrator, and both executive and part-time staff, as well as from school closures and alternative education consolidation.
“We are looking at some common solutions, both at the revenue side and the expenditure side … to find some cost efficiencies … we are working very close with the city budget office,” Clark said.
Still, at the Feb. 5 Finance and Operations Meeting, Clark announced projections that the school systems would require a budget almost $20 million bigger than last year’s, a nearly $7 million gap even after the $13 million reductions. Initially, Clark had hoped to remedy budget issues with a request to the New Haven Board of Alders for $10 million — a figure that Board of Education members rejected as too high.
Looking to transportation as an area ripe for cutting costs, board members are considering negotiating bus contracts and redistricting bus routes. An even greater reduction could result if the number of schools in the district is lowered.
Board of education members said they would not agree to some of Clark’s proposed cuts, such as the elimination of athletics at Dr. Cordlandt V.R. Creed Health and Sport Sciences High School and the elimination of Reserve Officer Training Corps program in schools. Board members, including Finance and Operations co-chairs Jamell Cotto and Frank Redente, said they are prepared to cut programs, but members said they still want more information before they make any major decisions.
“All of these [programs that face budget cuts] are nice. Being nice is nice. But we need to get done what we need to get done for the district,” President of the New Haven Board of Education Darnell Goldson said. “The problem is there is no description. [The Budget Proposal] just gives us a line and a dollar amount, there’s no explanation.”
In a statement, the New Haven Public Schools Advocates — a parent team formed during last year’s prolonged superintendent search process — laid out steps they hope the board of education will take when as it drafts a new budget.
The NHPS Advocates urged the board of education to prioritize “specials” programs, including programs for the arts, physical education, foreign language and in-school supports such as social workers and psychologists; to implement a freeze on all non-grant-funded, nonessential expenditures, including new staff contracts, until the budget is finalized; and to explore reducing administrative and supervisory positions.
With this in mind, the NHPS Advocates proposed extending the district’s March 1 deadline to March 9.
“In order to carefully apply these principles, we oppose the rushed schedule for cuts,” the statement, which was posted on the group’s website, read. “Haste is unlikely to produce the thoughtful decisions needed to reorient the district toward greater efficiency, fairness and financial stability.”
But Clark said that he thinks the March 1 deadline is doable, noting that the budget is always contentious but always comes together.
Board of Education members Jamell Cotto, Goldson, Frank Redente and Tamiko Jackson-McArthur serve on the Finance and Operations Committee.
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