WOODBURY – Three days after voters in Woodbury and Bethlehem rejected Region 14’s 2018-19 proposed budget increase of 2.37%, Dr. Anna Cutaia presented a new plan to the Board of Education at a special meeting held Friday evening.
The new proposed budget of $33,988,629 represents a 1.928% increase over the current budget, cuts into athletics, benefits, and memberships. It also increases how much it hopes to receive in the form of grants and agriculture science tuition revenue from the state.
The Board of Education unanimously approved the new budget proposal.
A district meeting for the new proposed budget will be held on Tuesday, May 22, and the referendum will be held on Wednesday, May 23.
The meeting and referendum will not be on its usual Monday-Tuesday schedule due to logistics surrounding Woodbury’s Town Meeting scheduled for Monday, May 21, which is expected to run late into the evening and would interfere with set-up for a 6 a.m. vote Tuesday.
Gone from the new proposed budget is $25,000 for new portable bleachers for the athletic fields at Nonnewaug High School. Board member John Chapman, Chairman of the Building Committee, said this may be able to instead be covered as part of the Nonnewaug renovation, which has come in well under budget.
Benefits for Region 14 employees will also be cut by $25,000, and Region 14’s membership fees paid to the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education will also be reduced by $11,839.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Correction regarding the $25,000 cut in benefits for Region 14 employees: That cut is to other post employment benefits (OPEB), which is generally a term describing health benefits for eligible former (retired) employees, much like a pension benefit. Current Region 14 employees will not be affected.]
The proposed budget increase on the mill rate would bring Bethlehem’s from 1.53 to 1.24, and Woodbury’s from -.24 to -.53.
Region 14 Treasurer Carol Ann Brown said residents in Bethlehem are worried about the Region 14 proposed budget increase because its mill rate is on the rise. However, she added that getting the Region 14 proposed budget increase under 2% may help appease voters there.
Region 14 Vice Chairman Maryanne Van Aken said low voter turnout led to the initial budget being rejected. Just 1,715 voters went to the polls in Woodbury and Bethlehem on Tuesday, and there were 900 votes against the proposed budget.
Brown noted that perception by voters is that as Region 14 enrolment shrinks, fewer administrators are needed. Board member Michael Devine added that negativity on social media has driven this view, and better messaging about the roles administrators play needs to be delivered to the public.