Stafford superintendent proposes 4.92% increase in school budget | Stafford

STAFFORD — Superintendent Steven A. Moccio has proposed a 4.92 percent increase in spending, or $1.4 million more, for a proposed total school budget of just over $30.5 million for the 2022-23 financial year.

Salary increases, special education costs and small budget increases in recent years are the main reasons for the strong growth, Moccio told the Board of Education during its presentation Tuesday.

Over the past three years, budget increases have averaged 1.41%, he said, adding: “Now we cannot continue to maintain these percentages and not expect to eventually have to try to catch up.”

Moccio admitted there was “a major jump last year, in terms of a 2.82% budget change,” but staff used state and federal grants to offset that jump for local taxpayers.

But contractual increases in salaries and benefits, as well as tuition and transportation costs for out-of-district placement of students with special needs were the main drivers of this proposed spending plan, he said.

Staff salaries at $17.3 million and benefits at $5.3 million represent 74.4% of the proposed budget, while student transportation costs total nearly $2.5 million, a Moccio said.

Staffing changes included in the budget proposal are the hiring of a behavior analyst to focus on implementing a behavior improvement plan for the school system; moving a part-time janitor to full-time and adding a school counselor to Stafford Elementary School. A secretary role at the West Stafford School Family Resource Center will also change from part-time to full-time, and four assistant speech therapists would be spread across the district, with one in each school.

Positions eliminated or reduced include a behavioral specialist, who is being reshuffled to the role of elementary school counselor; fund half of the food services director’s salary and benefits from the separate food services account; one maintenance worker and four paraprofessional positions will remain vacant, as they have been difficult to fill; and one of the two speech therapists would be eliminated, due to the new structure of the program with the four assistants.

There was an increase of nine students in the Superintendent’s enrollment figures. According to data he presented, enrollment fell from 1,375 students in 2021 to 1,384 in 2022, based on January 1, 2022 numbers. The school district is also financially responsible for more than 80 students who are not attending not Stafford Public Schools, including those who are home-schooled or enrolled in magnet schools, private schools, vocational agricultural schools, or vocational technical schools. Expenses vary for these students and can include tuition, special education services, and transportation, as the numbers show.

Finally, 17.9% of Stafford Public Schools students receive special education services and 7% are eligible for mandatory services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. There was an increase of 33 students receiving these services from June 2021 to January 2022, Moccio said.

The percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals is 28.52%, making Stafford Elementary and Middle School eligible for federal funds based on the number of low-income families served .

The Board of Education can make changes before adopting the draft budget, which is then forwarded to the Board of Finance. This council can then approve it or send it back to the Board of Education for review. Once ratified by the Finance Council, the budget is generally adopted by referendum.

Deidre Montague covers the towns of Vernon and Stafford.

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