Hartford Schools Formulate Budget

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2017

Hartford — Though the Hartford School District still doesn’t know how much it will get in state funding, school officials are getting a clearer picture of how much it will spend, after signing contracts with teacher and support staff unions earlier this week.

The bulk of the school district’s $37.4 million budget is wrapped up in the general fund, which in current drafts is projected to increase from $28.9 million to $29.5 million.

“It’s still early, and we don’t know what the state’s going to provide for offsets,” Superintendent Tom DeBalsi said Thursday morning. “I can’t even venture a guess on what that will look like for the local taxpayers.”

DeBalsi and Finance Director James Vezina said there are several forces driving that change, and that not all of the increase will be borne by local taxpayers.

Special education costs will increase by about $300,000, but at least 56 percent of that will show up back in the budget in the form of increased revenues from the state, which is legally required to share that cost with local districts. Salaries are expected to increase by $500,000, to $16 million, but about $100,000 of that is due to an accounting change that places Career Center staff into the general fund, and another $140,000 of that will be offset by decreases to insurance and retirement benefits.

Salaries and benefits make up between 70 and 80 percent of the school district’s total budget.

Under the contract, which was signed during mediation after an impasse was declared, teachers will receive a 2.9 percent pay raise for the current school year, and a 3 percent raise next year.

Support staff signed a three-year contract, which includes pay hikes of 2.25 percent for the current year, followed by two years of 2.5 percent increases.

The contract discussions were more difficult than usual, because of a statewide transition to a new health care system that will take effect in January. The uncertainty created by that plan, and its impact on how state legislators treat the education fund, had many unions across the state signing one-year contracts.

“I would say the final outcome was fair,” Kevin Christie, Hartford School Board chairman, said on Thursday. “The fact that we were able to come up with a three year agreement with the support staff and a two year agreement with the teachers speaks volumes about the end product.”

Christie said the outcome will help Hartford to attract and maintain its 430 staff in a competitive marketplace.

“Our hope is to have a total organization where we might not necessarily be the highest paid, but the quality of the atmosphere of the organization is such that people would rather be here than somewhere else,” Christie said. “That’s a delicate balance.”

As the budget talks continue, Christie said he’ll be pushing for a new administrative position that will help the district to gain grants, and bolster its image to the community.

“At least at present, it’s very high on the priority list, I’d say,” Christie said. “We’ve been loading the superintendent and assistant superintendent for the last four years with outreach activities, and there are only so many hours in the day.”

Christie said a new outreach coordinator could spiff up the school’s website and social media presence and make more prospective students aware of the district’s achievements and offerings.

For example, he said, families considering bringing their children to Dothan Brook School might be impressed to learn that guidance counselor Rebecca Lallier visited the White House after being honored as one of five finalists for American School Counselor Association’s 2017 School Counselor of the Year.

Though the details of the position have yet to be determined, Christie envisions a 50-50 split between community outreach, and grant writing.

“When I look at the amount of money that we leave on the table each year because we just don’t have the bandwidth to develop the grants, that’s a missed opportunity,” he said.

Christie said any firm discussions about adding the administrative position will have to wait until after Dec. 1, when the state is expected to release projections of per-pupil funding for districts.

The School Board is scheduled to meet with the Hartford Selectboard at 6 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss ways to benefit their budget processes through the possible coordination of bonds, and sharing of resources.

The process will ramp up for the public during an information night scheduled for Jan. 8 in the Town Hall. Other major dates in the budget process are a public bond hearing on Feb. 6, a budget discussion and candidates night on Feb. 26, Town and School District Meeting Day on March 3, all capped by a public vote on Town Meeting Day on March 6.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.