Though school officials have tossed aside plans to hand out layoff notices to scores of non-tenured teachers and others, it remains unclear how much of the $104 million “go forward” budget will receive funding from the state and city.
“I will do everything in my power to knock it down,” city Councilor Mike Rimcoski said.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer said that he is troubled by “a significant drop-off in state aid” that makes it increasingly difficult for administrators to maintain the level of education needed in Bristol.
The proposed school spending plan seeks $3.7 million more than the schools got during the current fiscal year, mostly to cover rising health care costs for employees, special education and higher salaries.
But it appears that state aid levels may remain level – or potentially even decline in the face of a budgetary meltdown – so finding the extra cash to pay the higher tab may prove a trick.
The federal government’s recent stimulus package includes money for education that may help cover some of the tab, officials said, but because of its one-time nature, whatever benefits it offer may make future budgets even more difficult to fund.
“In the next year or two, we could be laying 100 or more” employees, Streifer said, all of them in areas where city schools are not mandated to provide services, such as special education.
Rimcoski said he doesn’t know where all the necessary dollars are going to come from.
“I’ve got people losing houses” in Bristol already, he said, and pushing property taxes higher isn’t going to help anyone.
“We’ve reached the saturation point in this city,” said Rimcoski, a veteran GOP councilor from northeastern Bristol’s 1st District.
Streifer said he understands the impact of rising costs on local taxpayers and sympathizes with the plight many face.
Mayor Art Ward said the city is “just at the beginning” of the budget process this year.
He said he expects “a lot of transition” in the city’s spending plans as the overall picture becomes clearer.
Streifer and Ward said they hope that state lawmakers will pursue mandate relief that could ease the pressure on school funding.
With fewer mandates, the schools could use the money available to cover broader needs, they said, and help stretch the budget.
“I wish they’d mandate everything,” Streifer said, so that he would be required to do everything the schools need instead of focusing only on some areas.
The amount of money the schools will get from the city will be set in May at a joint session of the Board of Finance and City Council. The finance panel will prepare a draft budget by late April.
City leaders are eyeing a property tax freeze, but some are skeptical of the idea because it could bring so much hardship to education in particular.
What you can do
There is a budget hearing on the school spending plan slated for 6 p.m., Wednesday at the Board of Education where the city’s Board of Finance will review the request.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org