Trumbull’s Board of Education met Tuesday evening to address an agenda whose only consequential item was dealing with unspent funds. The administration estimates the amount will be between $1 million and $1.175 million.
Government entities underspend budgets because they do not know with certainty actual expenses until all invoices are received, typically a month after year end. Such is the case here.
Earlier this year the Board of Finance had agreed to use funds unspent by the education board to pay for the start up of the Full Day Kindergarten program. Connecticut statute 10-248a permits the finance board to deposit up to one percent of a year’s education budget into a “nonlapsing account” for use during the next year. Here the amount will be $875,000.
The education board will seek formal approval for this transfer in July. Inasmuch as First Selectman Tim Herbst has publicly called for the new program it is anticipated that he will place the item on the finance board agenda.
Superintendent Ralph Iassogna told the board that he projects an additional amount “between $125,000 and $300,000” that he would like to use to acquire computers and other equipment to comply with the state mandated Three Year Technology Plan.
He said that the plan has lain dormant for about four years, meaning computers that were eight years old then – already well beyond their technologically useful lives – are now 12 years old, and still being rebuilt and reused.
Iassogna said the money would reduce the $2.5 million bonding authorized for purchasing computers, wireless equipment and related components for every building in the system.
Uncertainty aside, the equipment must be ordered by June 30.
Two other options were offered by board members. Tom Kelly again pleaded for the elimination of Pay to Participate fees. He said that “some children do not participate in sports, elementary strings and the THS musical for economic reasons.” He added “reducing the fees is the right thing to do.”
He noted that Trumbull has the second highest such fees in the state, a “distinction I don’t want to have.”
Iassogna told the board that he has approved nearly every waiver of these fees that was requested, often without truly probing, so he believes there are few students who want to participate who do not.
The superintendent’s reservation was partially that using one time money to fund an ongoing program creates a funding cliff. This, unfortunately, is just what the board has been forced to do to start Full Day Kindergarten – underspend the current year’s budget, transfer the funds to next year and hope that the First Selectman approves a 2012-13 budget large enough to include the new program.
The second option was funding curriculum enhancement items – chiefly textbook purchases and software subscriptions. Curriculum Director Linda Paslov said $125,000 was cut from her budget, but that $50,000 would supplement grants and permit the purchase of some necessary textbooks and resubscriptions to frequently used software.
Curriculum is a small part of the approximately five percent of the total budget that students see in their classrooms – textbooks, software, updated curriculum – yet it has too often been sacrificed as our education budget got dramatically reduced in the last couple of years.
The motion to apply unspent funds beyond the one percent for computers and related equipment was amended, to set aside $25,000 for curriculum. The amendment was defeated 4-3, the motion approved 6-0 with an abstention.
“Tell my why” seeks an explanation for what appears to be another attempt by town government officials to make line item decisions for the Board of Education. The education board is a creature of the state, not the town. By statute, First Selectmen, Boards of Finance and Town Councils may approve only a total budget for education, but may not dictate line item amounts.
If the answer is that a meeting is a courtesy call to inform town officials how the administration will spend its monies, all well and good. If, however, town officials seek to dictate choices to the education board or seek a return of the system’s funds – funds that have already been included in the mill rate – they have overstepped their authority.