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Sunday, February 5, 2012

School budget increase for Litchfield

LITCHFIELD – A brief squabble over special education funding led to a $33,000 increase to the Litchfield schools’ budget proposal Saturday at the school district’s Deliberative Session.

Members of the school community, concerned over the district’s ongoing feud with the state over special education enrollment standards, agreed to add $33,000 to the district’s $20 million budget proposal to cover additional students.

Members of the district’s budget committee took the debate into consideration when it proposed its $248,500 increase to out-of-district tuition for special education students, chairman Bill Spencer told the crowd. But the total, which fell $120,000 below the school board’s recommendation, wasn’t enough to meet the rising numbers likely to result from the feud, according to some critics.

Last month, officials from the state Department of Education found the district’s enrollment standards to be in violation of state and federal laws.

“With that recent (state) decision, I am concerned we are going to have an increase in students above what the district has already identified,” Cindy Couture, a former school board member, told the audience, which quickly approved her $33,000 amendment.

After approving the proposed increase, school district voters passed the new $20.8 million budget forward to next month’s district elections. The proposal is about 3.4 percent higher than the current $20 million budget, and the increases are due mostly to fixed costs, such as retirement, health insurance and workers’ compensation costs, according to district administrators.

In other matters addressed at Saturday’s meeting, voters moved forward proposals to provide 1 percent cost-of-living increases to the district’s non-union workers ($40,492), to upgrade the contracted athletic training services to full-time at Campbell High School ($33,799), and to restore a part-time reading specialist position at the high school ($25,836).

District voters agreed, as well, to pass along proposals to fund the high school wrestling program ($9,845), and to renew a summer reading program at Griffin Memorial School ($6,415).

“Those that want reading help, we should provide that,” school board member Jason Guerrette told the crowd. “It would be a shame to let folks leave (the district) and still have issues with reading.”

To close the day, district voters weighed in on a petitioned warrant article proposing to give the town budget committee authority to review the town’s default budget, which goes into effect if voters shoot down the operating budget proposal.

A group of 25 residents introduced the article, seeking to provide more oversight over the default process to ensure it is lawful.

Members of the school board and budget committee clashed over who should have authority over the default budget, but after nearly an hour of debate, residents opted to move the matter forward to voters next month.

The article will appear with the others on the ballot at the March 13 election.