The Board of Education is likely to find itself in the budgetary crosshairs as city leaders try to cope with a revenue squeeze that threatens to shove property taxes higher.
“The Board of Education is really driving the whole city of Bristol’s budget,” said Comptroller Glenn Klocko.
The problem is that school officials have limited options to cope with the soaring tab for city taxpayers.
The state is eyeing a $5 million cut in its basic educational grant to the city – and some smaller cuts, too – while the expense of operating schools at the same level as this year would add another $5 million to the tab.
Superintendent Philip Streifer said he’s trying to convince lawmakers to waive some mandates that add to cost, including several days of continuing education for teachers.
Every day the schools are open costs $300,000 so trimming even a handful would make a big difference, officials said.
Streifer has already put a freeze on hiring and spending in a bid to keep this year’s $100 million education budget from breaking the bank.
“They’re really trying to help us,” Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said.
But unless the schools can trim costs, many of which are mandates, or the state coughs up more cash, property taxes could rise as much as 2.5 mills next year, Klocko said. That’s about a 10 percent property tax hike.
Mayor Art Ward said that he’s angling to keep the city’s spending in the next budget year low enough to freeze property taxes – if the schools can do the same.
“The focus, unfortunately for them, is all on education,” Klocko said.
Miecznikowski said the finance panel’s biggest concern is the school budget.
“We can hold down the city side,” the veteran leader of the Board of Finance said. His panel shapes the budget, which is ultimately approved in May at a joint session of finance commissioners and city councilors.
Miecznikowki said that the school aid cuts on the table in Hartford represent “a big nut” to crack.
With a 2.5-mill tax hike built in if education needs don’t change, “we’re going to have to do something,” Miecznikowski said.
He said that if the state suspended 10 days of school costs through a furlough, it would save the city $3 million.
Miecznikowski said with so many people losing their jobs and struggling to cope with recessionary ills, city officials have no choice but to try to clamp down on spending.
“How can you go up in taxes?” he asked.
The current city budget plan calls for shelling out $172 million, with education receiving the majority of the cash.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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