Karen Lin, Staff Photographer
In their final budget workshop of the cycle, the Board of Alders’s Finance Committee heard requests to increase the Board of Education’s budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year after a tumultuous year of mostly online learning.
In March, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker unveiled two budgets for the city during the 2021-2022 fiscal year –– the Forward Together and Crisis budgets, each catering to different financial realities. For the Forward Together budget to be approved, the city would require additional funding from Yale or the state of Connecticut. Throughout workshops, the Board of Alders has hosted representatives of each department listed in the budget as a way to hear a more thorough breakdown of departmental allocations before budget deliberations begin. Budget deliberations are scheduled to be held on May 10, 13 and, if needed, 20. During these meetings, the board will discuss and vote on the budget.
During Thursday’s meeting, the committee primarily discussed the Board of Education and their request for an $8.8 million increase in their budget from last year. The Crisis Budget does not raise the Board of Education’s budget from the $189 million it had in the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The Forward Together proposal increases their budget by $3 million, allocating $192 million to the department. In contrast, the Board of Education has instead requested $198 million, an $8.8 million dollar increase since the last fiscal year. Alders argued to Board of Education members present that the request was unrealistic given the city’s financial deficit.
“We know there’s a discrepancy,” said New Haven Public Schools’ Superintendent Iline Tracey. “But I’m gonna say: I want this team to do whatever you can to support education.”
New Haven Public Schools’ chief financial officer Phillip Penn noted in his presentation during the committee meeting that the most significant driver of the increase would be salaries and benefits for teachers, with non-salary expenses like transportation and facility maintenance accounting for a smaller portion of the money.
Penn stated that utility costs are expected to drop significantly due to the permanent closure of West Rock and Quinnipiac schools. The closures reduced district costs by about $1.04 million dollars a year. The low savings can be attributed to the continued presence of the teachers and students of these schools, who will relocate to other schools in the district. Tracey also added that teacher’s union contracts prevent the district from laying off any teachers despite these closures.
The committee then moved to discuss the role of COVID-19 federal grants in Board of Education budgeting considerations. Federal grant money via the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief I, II, and III grants must be expended by 2022, 2023 and 2024, respectively. The total value of these amounts to over $136 million. In light of these grants, Penn said he is excited to see how the funds could “fundamentally change education in New Haven.”
Penn noted, however, that the district is thinking long-term in order to avoid a “funding cliff” once the grants end by using them for one-time purchases, such as tech upgrades or textbooks.
Westville Alder Adam Marchand GRD ’99, raised concerns about the gap between Elicker’s budget proposals and what the Board of Education proposed. He noted the fraught financial situation of the city and questioned the feasibility of increasing the Board of Education’s budget.
Tracey also noted that if the Board of Education’s deficit is not resolved, it will “be coming right back” to the alders during next year’s budget discussions. In February, Gov. Lamont announced a state budget that, if approved, would freeze Education Cost Sharing and Alliance grants that the district heavily relies on. Penn previously noted that would be “devastating” to the city.
East Rock Alder Anna Festa noted that there are creative ways to use up the current surplus of federal funds, which will not roll over into the next fiscal period, including improving fields around the city for students to use for sports. She also noted that “it’s not a matter of whether we support education or not, it’s just a matter of whether we can support that [expenditure from the city’s budget].”
There are 44 schools in the New Haven Public Schools System.
Ángela Pérez | email@example.com