Litchfield’s Board of Education has settled on a proposed budget calling for an increase in spending of $763,474, or 3.87 percent, in 2019-20.
The board endorsed a spending plan of $19,757,000 during a special meeting on Tuesday. Endorsement came after the board voted to support a new health insurance package for employees that will save $250,000 next year.
Last week, the board adopted a proposed budget of $20 million, but also directed Superintendent of Schools Sherri Turner and Director of Business Operations David Fiorillo to seek less expensive insurance options.
Turner and Fiorillo followed orders and recommended a package provided by ConnectiCare that will save $250,000 while giving employees options similar to the ones under the current Anthem plan.
Under the $20 million proposal, the board was facing a projected increase in insurance premiums of $520,778. Turner and Fiorillo recommended the move to ConnectiCare. The projected increase made up nearly half of a proposed increase in spending of $1,066,474.
By choosing to go with ConnectiCare, the board leaves the town’s insurance pool, which Turner said would be a wise move.
“If we stay with the town, we may not get the rate we’re going to get (with ConnectiCare),” Turner said. “That’s what I’m concerned about.”
The proposed shift to ConnectiCare was the subject of a spirited debate that ended with a vote to make the move. Wayne Shuhi was lone board member to oppose the move, saying the board first needed to touch base with town officials and school employees.
In addition to changing insurance plans, the board added $7,000 to the proposed budget for the repair of Litchfield High School music instruments. The board’s current budget is $18,993,526.
With the insurance matter settled, the board voted 4-2 to move the proposed budget to the Board of Finance for consideration on Monday. Matthew Terzian and Lynn Stone voted against the measure.
The proposed budget’s increase is still too high and might not be supported by voters, according to Terzian.
“I’m concerned about all taxpayers in our town, and that almost all, if not all, of the families with children in our districts are also taxpayers, even the renters via the local property tax for vehicles,” Terzian said in a statement Wednesday. “Our mill rate affects all of us, including families with children in the district and families without children in the district.
“I very much want to see our schools at the top of all state rankings and for us to deliver a stellar educational opportunity for all of our kids, but I also want to make sure our mill rate does not climb to where it becomes a barrier to living in Litchfield," he said. "A proper balance needs to be found, and each and every dollar needs to be well spent.”
The board is going to have to be more vigilant about its spending practices, according to Terzian.
“With changes to the deductions on the federal level starting in the 2018 tax year, many families in our state are seeing their taxes go up on a federal level,” Terzian said. “Couple that with 4 or 5-percent mill rate increases, and it starts to hurt all the residents in Litchfield, including those with students in the district. If a rate rises 5-percent a year, it would equate to a doubling in about 14 years. It is not sustainable for many of our fellow residents.”