Superintendent asks for 2.61% increase to $39.2 million next year

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TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

Steven LePage, superintendent of Plainville Community Schools, announced that he will be proposing a $39,227,677 budget for the 2020-21 school year; an increase of 2.61% over the current budget. LePage addressed a mix of board of education, faculty, and community members during the first of three budget workshops held on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

The 2019-20 budget, totaling $38,229,105, was passed by voters last spring.

LePage discussed the eight line items that make up the budget and some of the driving influences on the increase. The biggest contributor was a $972,354 or 2.54% contractual increase in staffing costs—the biggest portions of this increase are attributed to health insurance (5% increase over last year), paraprofessionals and tutors (3.69% increase over last year), and teachers salaries (2.62% increase over last year).

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The superintendent explained that through the collective bargaining process, the state requires districts to “give a fair and reasonable wage increase” that is proportionate to other districts in the state. Staffing accounts for 85% of the overall budget.

“I’ve heard taxpayers say why don’t we just not give anybody raises,” said LePage. “The problem with that is through collective bargaining—if you say I’m just giving a zero percent to everybody, you’re going to end up in arbitration—you are going to lose. And you’re going to pay as much or more than you would pay through a reasonable bargaining situation.”

Behind staffing, the next highest contributing factor is the “transportation, tuition, and other services” line item which saw an increase of 4.33%. This section encapsulates transportation of students daily, for field trips, athletics, a district owned van, special education students in town and throughout the state, tuition for students in schools outside of the district, travel costs associated with staffing including faculty who work throughout multiple schools, when traveling for staffing related events, and more.

PCS currently has 70 students attending magnet schools, accounting for $220,000 worth of district tuition. But, 122 students (about 5% of student population) attend Plainville schools through the open choice program, bringing in approximately $1 million in annual funding.

The superintendent also discussed the capital improvement budget, along with some of the anticipated projects. The capital budget being proposed at $682,400 is more than double what was approved last year ($310,473). This total has already been approved by the BOE.

LePage stressed the importance of the capital plan, saying that due to budget issues such as funding loss in previous years, many capital projects had been postponed. At the joint presentation to the BOE and town council held earlier this month, LePage said BOE facility projects include items such as building a secure entrance at Plainville High School, replacing the PHS swimming pool heater, and additional work on the PHS entrance area for a total of $326,000. Technology improvements include items such as replacing student and staff Chromebooks for a total of $356,400.

The renovation project on Frank T. Wheeler Elementary school was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. Now the district is turning its focus to the Middle School of Plainville, where the last round of substantial construction was completed in the early 1990s.

The district will use this school year to determine what steps are required for the renovation, including determining “how many students we’d have to have in order to have a renovate-like-new project.”

Should the project be approved for state grant funding, the preliminary design phase would begin during the 2020-21 school year. In the following year, the district would get the project cost estimate and set the budget. That number would go out to referendum during the 2022-23 school year, and the construction would be slated to begin in the summer of 2023.

The BOE will vote on whether to approve this budget, which would then be presented to the town council, during the monthly meeting to be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 10, in Plainville High School.

According to the town charter, the superintendent’s budget must be presented to the town manager no later than Saturday, Feb. 15. It is also required for the town manager to present his general government budget to the town council no later than Monday, Mar. 9.

The next regularly scheduled meetings of the town council will be held on Monday, Feb. 3, Tuesday, Feb. 18, and Monday, Mar. 2, at 7 p.m. in the Plainville Municipal Building.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at News@PlainvilleObserver.com.