Toland — Superintendent Walter Willett Wednesday night proposed spending more than $2 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which would be a 4.94% increase over the school’s current budget.
The proposed increase would bring the total budget to just over $42.8 million.
Willett attributed most of the increase to union “unit bargaining” and contract increases, as well as transportation and technology costs.
Certified employees will increase salaries by 4.08%, or a change of $782,125, according to budget documents.
About 15% of the budget increase is for the cost of student transportation and private tuition, Willett said, adding that the total cost for that would be more than $300,000.
Some of the increase is also the result of students receiving updated laptops, Willett said, which will cost about “$50,000 per degree.” He added that replacing outdated technology such as laptops is part of the region’s technology education initiative.
Willett also suggested several additional staff positions to meet the different needs of the area.
One of those positions could be a new utility worker in the area, which Willett says is sorely needed.
“For years we’ve had very few people on our facilities team,” Willett said Wednesday, adding that having more utility staff would save the area money in the long run because they wouldn’t have to use outside vendors for the building and land care work.
The proposed budget also includes another high school social studies teacher for a new black and Latino semester next year. A new math teacher is also included to “provide additional support for struggling students,” according to budget documents.
Willett said the new school counselor position is also included in the proposed budget to respond to the deteriorating mental health as a result of the pandemic.
“One common theme is students’ need for social and emotional support,” Willett said, adding that there was “tremendous support” for the job and that the growing need for counseling in schools was reflected in the budget.
Willett said the proposed budget made adjustments to the registry.
Enrollment decreased from 2,281 students in the 2020-21 academic year to 2,217 in 2021-22 according to budget documents. Willett added that he expects enrollment to increase, particularly at the new Birch Grove Primary School where construction was completed in September.
“Now we are in a place where we will not shrink,” he said.
Of his proposed budget, Willett told the Board of Education Wednesday: “Overall, rest assured that your staff is working hard and the contracts we have with employees are very fair.”
“However, it is something I know we have to chew on,” he said of the guild contracts.
Some school board members expressed reservations about the increase at their Wednesday night meeting.
“I have concerns about the 4.94% increase, and I think it’s going to be a little tricky…I think maybe we need to be a little creative,” said board member Kristen Griffin.
“I don’t know if it will pass in the referendum,” said board member Jacob Marie. “It’s just my gut feeling.”
Budget documents show that the region has a five-year average of 0.74% in budget increases and a nine-year average of 1.5%. In the last fiscal year, the budget increased 2% after Willett proposed a 3.59% increase.
Toland ranks lowest of 143 out of 166 school districts in per-pupil spending, according to the state Department of Education.
The proposed budget also includes $704,588 in discretionary federal grants to “improve core programs” and teacher quality, according to budget documents.
The Board of Education is expected to hold a budget workshop on January 19 and vote on whether to adopt or make changes to it on February 9.
Covers by Ben Coventry and Toland for the Journal Enquirer.