GREENWICH, CT — In a year "like no other" as a result of the coronavirus crisis, Superintendent Toni Jones recently presented a proposed $169 million operating budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year to the Board of Education.
That number represents a 3.97 percent increase, or $6.4 million, over the current budget and includes a $37.9 million proposed capital budget. (To sign up for Greenwich breaking news alerts and more, click here.)
During a special board meeting Thursday, Jones noted there was "a great deal of preparation" that went into creating this year's budget proposal.
"This year has been like no other, in that COVID-19 made it much more difficult," Jones said. "In June, July and August we were very focused on [purchasing] PPE and getting our schools open, so we had a very compressed [budget] process this year."
In order to arrive at the proposed number, Jones and other district officials examined a number of factors, including previous and current budgets, academic needs and the need for staffing adjustments. They also gathered new enrollment projection data, reviewed estimated fixed costs and looked at local, state and federal funding information.
According to Jones, the district's enrollment projections for the 2021-22 school year are "relatively flat" overall, with only an estimated 15 students expected to be added.
Breaking down the operating budget, Jones noted the district's largest expense is its salaries, which represents 78 percent of the budget.
Digging further into that expense, Jones said 90.75 percent of those funds go toward classroom support, while 5.45 percent goes toward custodial and maintenance and 1.20 percent goes toward part-time and temporary salaries. Only 2.60 percent goes toward administration, which has decreased by 1.4 percent, Jones said.
"This is something that I have really worked hard on as an administrator," Jones said, "to make sure we're targeting as much of our dollars to the classroom [as possible]."
Priorities for the budget include a need to purchase new K-8 math textbooks, for which $652,000 is budgeted, and new library books, which would cost an estimated $136,000, Jones said. The district also must meet contractual salary obligations, for which $2.3 million has been budgeted.
According to Jones, the Board of Estimation and Taxation's guidance was for 3.38 percent, and the proposed budget ended up only slightly above that at 3.97 percent, or a 0.59 percent difference.
The proposed $37.9 million capital budget includes $8 million for soil remediation at Western Middle School, $4.8 million for the Cardinal Field improvement project, $2.75 million for a secure entryway at Greenwich High School, $2.3 million for field improvement at Central Middle School, $1.7 million for Julian Curtiss School renovation design work and $102,000 for a feasibility study of a Central Middle School renovation.
Board secretary Karen Hirsh thanked Jones and Sean O'Keefe, the district's chief operating officer, for putting together an "incredible" budget book.
"I'm not a budget-minded person, but this is the first time I've been able to go through a full budget book and actually really follow everything fully detailed," Hirsh said. "I hope this makes it a lot more clear for everybody else who is looking through the budget book."
Board chair Peter Bernstein noted this was the board's first look at the proposed budget, and while reactions from board members seemed to be positive so far, there will "certainly" have additional questions and discussions about it. A second budget meeting is currently scheduled for Dec. 3.
"The superintendent and her team continue to find efficiencies and ensure that the majority of our operating budget is directed to the classrooms while continuing to bring down our administrative costs," Bernstein said. "Given that we are coming off a flat budget year, I believe they landed in a very good place."
Bernstein said the board will also discuss requesting additional funding for recommended changes that may come from an ongoing special education audit. The audit, which is supported by the BET, will be completed in the spring, Bernstein said.
"We need to address the question of what is the best way to ensure funds are available to make any necessary changes for the next school year," Bernstein said.
Bernstein also noted the board wants to work with the BET to make sure that funding is available to begin the remediation of the Western Middle School fields once approval from the state and the Environmental Protection Agency is received.
Jones was similarly optimistic following the meeting.
"We are enthusiastic about this budget," Jones said, "and feel as though it is responsible, transparent, and provides what Greenwich Public Schools need to maintain and sustain excellence."