4.94% school budget hike proposed in Tolland

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  • Walter Willett
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Jan. 14—TOLLAND — Superintendent Walter Willett on Wednesday night proposed increasing spending by more than $2 million for fiscal year 2022-23, which would be an increase of 4.94% over the current school budget.

The proposed increase would bring the total budget to just over $42.8 million.

Willett attributed most of the increase to union "bargaining unit" and contractual increases, as well as transportation and technology costs.

Salaries of certified staff would increase by 4.08%, or a change of $782,125, according to budget documents.

TOLLAND SCHOOL BUDGET

PROPOSED: A $42.837 million budget for next fiscal year.

INCREASE: 4.94%, or $2.018 million

VOTE: The school board will hold a budget workshop on Jan. 19 and vote on the budget on Feb. 9.

About 15% of the budget increase is represented by the cost of student and special education transportation, Willett said, adding that the total cost for this would be more than a $300,000 increase.

Some of the increase is also a result of students receiving updated laptops, which will be cost about "$50,000 per grade," Willett said. He added that replacing old technology such as the laptops is part of the district's Educational Technological Initiative.

Willett also proposed numerous additional staff positions to meet various needs for the district.

One such position would be a new facilities worker for the district, which Willett says is much-needed.

"For years we've had too few people on our facilities team," Willett said on Wednesday, adding that having more facilities staff would save the district money in the long run because they won't have to use outside vendors for the work of caring for the buildings and grounds.

The proposed budget also includes another social studies teacher at the high school for a new Black and Latino studies class next year. A new math teacher is also included to "provide additional support to students who are struggling," according to budget documents.

Willett said a new school counselor position is also included in the proposed budget to respond to worsened mental health as a result of the pandemic.

"One common theme is students needing social and emotional support," Willett said, adding that there is "tremendous support" for the position and that the increased need for counseling in schools has been reflected in the budget.

The proposed budget has also made adjustments for enrollment, Willett said.

Enrollment decreased from 2,281 students in the school year of 2020-21 to 2,217 in 2021-22, according to budget documents. Willett added though that he expects enrollment to increase, especially at the new Birch Grove Primary School where construction was completed in September.

"Now we're at a place where we're not going to be shrinking," he said.

Of his proposed budget, Willett told the Board of Education Wednesday that, "Overall, rest assured that your staff are very hard working and the contracts we have with the staff are very fair."

Still, "it is something that I know we have to chew on," he said of the union contracts.

Some school board members expressed reservations about the increase at their meeting Wednesday night.

"I do have concerns about a 4.94% increase, I think it's going to be a bit difficult ... I think perhaps we need to be a little bit creative," board member Christine Griffin said.

"I don't know if it'll pass at referendum ... that's just my gut feeling," said board member Jacob Marie.

The district has a five-year average of 0.74% in budget increases and a nine-year average of 1.5%, budget documents show. Last fiscal year, the budget increased by 2% after Willett had proposed a 3.59% increase.

Tolland is at the bottom end of 143 out of 166 school districts in per pupil spending, according to the state Department of Education.

The proposed budget also includes $704,588 in estimated federal grant money for "improving basic programs" and teacher quality, according to budget documents.

The Board of Education is expected to hold a workshop on the budget on Jan. 19 and vote to adopt or make changes on Feb. 9.

Ben covers Coventry and Tolland for the Journal Inquirer.

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