Board of Education approves budget
WINSTED — After about two hours of discussion and deliberation, the Winchester Board of Education approved a cut of $27,692 from Superintendent of Schools Blaise Salerno’s proposed 2011-12 budget to come up with a final budget of $23,036,309.38 at a special meeting on Friday, March 11, at Pearson School.The meeting was a continuation from Thursday, March 10, when the board was scheduled to review the draft budget as proposed by Superintendent of Schools Blaise Salerno.However, during Thursday’s meeting, data and grants manager Diane Gieseking informed board Chairman Kathy O’Brien that she could not present certain budget details to the board.O’Brien then decided to call the meeting to a “recess” instead of adjourning.She said she did this in order to have the second meeting on Friday without having to give a 24-hour warning of it.During Friday’s meeting, the first reduction the board made, as proposed by O’Brien, was in the natural gas expenditure line item, from $61,535.90 to $47,000.O’Brien said that the original line item represented the funding of three school buildings and the cut represents funding of two buildings.The school board is scheduled to shut down one of the three school buildings in town due to the Board of Education’s previous decision to move the town’s seventh- and eighth-graders to the semi-private high school, The Gilbert School.The second cut approved by the board, which was also proposed by O’Brien, was the elimination of a library paraprofessional position.“I don’t like doing this,” O’Brien said. “I realize that it will put a little strain [on the district]. I know it’s going to be hard, but we have two library paraprofessionals proposed in the budget. We can split the remaining one between the two buildings.”The district would save an estimated $14,000 to $19,000 due to the elimination.It also means that the district would need to hire seven new paraprofessionals as opposed to the original eight Salerno proposed in his draft budget.The board also voted to reduce the textbook expenditures line by $3,263 to compensate for the seventh and eighth grades leaving the district.The board then discussed and approved a motion to buy a truck and plow for the school district for $25,000.Salerno told the board that the school district’s maintenance department does not own a vehicle.“I just signed a mileage check for $500 [to a department employee] because for the last month-and-a-half he has been using his own vehicle,” Salerno said. “He has also used my truck and used Diane’s truck. It is ridiculous that we have a maintenance department that does not have a maintenance vehicle. When we needed sand this year when the parking lot was covered with ice, [the employee] didn’t have a truck to pick up the sand. When we had a compressor break down in one of the buildings, he didn’t have a way to pick up the pieces of equipment that he needed.”The board also approved an amendment to cut $15,800 from line items in the maintenance budget to offset the expenditure of the truck. However, the board did not specify which line items should be cut. The issue was addressed several times throughout the meeting.Board member James DiVita asked if there is a way to find out whether or not there were duplicated services in the budget.“That’s kind of a philosophical question in my opinion,” O’Brien told DiVita. “As far as duplication, we have been grossly underserved by the people we have. We don’t have enough people in our administration. We don’t have enough principals or people in the central office.”The location of the school district’s central office itself was a topic of debate during the meeting.Board member Joseph Hanecak made a motion to cut $21,000 from the proposed budget by eliminating the central office rental expense line item.Salerno said he did not know where the district’s central office, Batcheller Elementary School, would be operating during the next school year.“If [Pearson School] is open, then you could have the central office here,” Salerno said.Board member Christine Royer said she was strongly opposed to the idea.“When we have 400 students from the fifth to eighth grades here, the building is crowded and every inch of space is used,” Royer said. “We have multiple classes that have had to use dividers to separate their space. It absolutely impacts children’s education when you put adults in a learning space.”“We will have to revisit the idea then,” Hanecak said. “Going out to renting space might have to be a reality.”The motion ultimately failed.