Tolland residents, school board members and school district employees and administrators explored various school district budget issues at Thursday's workshop at Tolland High School.
Some of the discussion highlights:
School District Health Costs - Given that the costs last year using a budget surplus, the board and district were asked how this would affect a projected 9.69 percent increase in health insurance costs for the 2013-2014 budget year.
Superintendent William Guzman listed the projected health insurance cost, amounting to $1,005,525, as one of the main drivers of the proposed 2013-2014 budget increase in the superintendent's message portion of his budget presentation.
Guzman said that he is unsure if the $650,000 pre-payment would affect the projected $1,005,525 increase. He explained that the insurance increase was calculated by multiplying the average number of school district employee claims by the projected increase percentage provided by the health insurance company.
According to Guzman, the district will investigate and have an answer available shortly.
Both the school district and town joined an insurance collaborative to lower costs in the spring of 2012.
All-Day Kindergarten - When asked why the school district chose not to offer all-day kindergarten, Guzman said that the district explored the idea and calculated that implementing the program would cost around $150,000.
While Guzman said that the benefits of all-day kindergarten are undeniable, it was ultimately decided to remove the program from the budget proposal, since he does not believe his recommended 4.95 percent increase will be approved.
"The budget, as presented to the board of education, would have been a 5.22, 5.23 had we included it in there," Guzman said. "But we're not going to even get a 4.95 percent."
Board member Karen Kramer emphasized that Tolland consistently spends one of the lower amounts per pupil in the state while still maintaining a high graduation rate.
"We run the the leanest system in the state of Connecticut for graduating students," Kramer said. Tolland spent an average of $11,133 per student, as compared to the state average of $14,031, according to 2009-2010 numbers, the most recent data available on the State Department of Education database.
Guzman said that the budget only supports the essentials due to economic pressures. "Let's not talk about gifted and talented programs or all-day kindergarten. Let's talk about survival. Our focus is going to be instruction."
Making HSAs Mandatory - Audience members asked on the progress of switching school district employees into the HSA (health saving account) plans, which aim to lower insurance costs. Guzman said that there are currently around 200 employees enrolled in traditional insurance plans and 90 in HSA plans.
A significant number of employees also choose to be insured under a spouse's or other family member's plan.
When asked if HSAs could be made mandatory, Guzman said that will be the district's recommendation when heading into contract negotiations. However, they are voluntary under the current contracts. The district holds outreach programs to teach employees about the HSAs, Guzman said.
The paraprofessional, clerical and custodian contracts are up for negotiation this spring.
More Budget Questions?
The next budget workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in council chambers. The proposed school district budget can be viewed on the district's website and the Tolland budget schedule can be seen on Tolland Patch.