November 28, 2014

Close to 3/4 of Essex Town Budget is Spent on Schools; and 1/4 on Everything Else

Valley Regional high school has 630 students

Education expenses for the public school children of Essex received a major portion of the Essex town budget in the last fiscal year. In fact, close to 3/4 of the town’s total budget, 73.1 % to be exact were dedicated to education expenses.

In contrast the town’s general operations budget, covering everything from park maintenance to policing, was just over 1/4 (26.9%) of the town’s budget.

Education expenses by category

In the present 2011/2012 Essex fiscal budget, education expenses on a percentage basis break down as follows: Essex elementary school  (24.45%).  Region 4 schools of John Winthrop middle school and Valley Regional high school (27.9%); Education supervision expense (12.6%) and Education debt service (8.1%).

Essex elementary school has 572 students

 

John Winthrop middle school has 340 students

To those who say that the Town of Essex is spending far too much of its budget on education, in defense James D. Francis, Chairman of the Essex Board of Finance, points to what he refers to as “the contract.” This means in his words, “When you sent your children to school, the town paid much more than your property taxes covered to educate them.  You balance out that gift by continuing to support the schools, even after your children are grown.”

Picking up a child at Essex elementary school

This could mean, for example, if the true cost of educating your child in public school was $13,000 a year, and your current property tax was $5,000 a year, you would be on the plus side of “the contract.” When your child is finished attending public schools of course, this would no longer be the case.

Complicating this “payback” concept of course is that town education costs, “keep moving up,” as Francis puts it.  He cited the growth of “special education” costs as one such factor.

Also, although Francis’ feels it will add little extra expense, in the next school year full-day kindergartens will replace the present half-day classes.   Furthermore, there is even discussion at the state level that public elementary schools in the future will be required to offer nursery school classes.

Two public proceedings on the Essex town budget

Two public proceedings are scheduled to focus on the next fiscal year’s Essex town budget.  Both will be held at Essex Town Hall.

The first will be a public hearing on April 19 at 8:00 p.m., sponsored by the Essex Board of Finance, to discuss the new 2012-2013 town budget. Both the Board of Finance and the Board of Education will participate.

The second will be an open town meeting on May 14, at 7:30p.m., to decide whether to adopt next year’s fiscal budget at the meeting, or to submit the budget to a town-wide referendum.

Which of these approval methods is decided upon, will be announced in advance of the May 14 meeting, according to Francis.

Region 4 budget referendum

In addition to the two Essex meetings on its new town budget, there will be a referendum on the Region 4 Board of Education’s new budget. It will be held on May 8 from noon to 8:00 p.m.at Essex Town Hall.

Another factor in the steady increase of the Town of Essex education expenditures is that the town’s percentage share in the Region 4 budget continues to climb. This is because Essex’s school age population is increasing at a rate greater than those of the other towns in the Region 4 school district, which are Deep River and Chester.

Yet another factor in the darkening cloud of ever increasing education expenses in Essex, according to Finance Chairman Francis, is that in Essex there is very little open space remaining, within the town’s boundaries that could be developed into new taxable land.

Bravo for new “Citizens’ Guide” on Essex town budget

To further budgetary understanding, the Town of Essex recently published a new “Citizen’s Guide to the Essex Town Budget,” which is available in the literature rack just inside Town Hall, when coming in from the parking lot. The guide is also accessible on line at the Essex Town web site, www.essexct.gov.

The guide’s explanation of important budget terms and procedures is outstanding!

Although the “Citizens’’ Guide” is overall a thoughtful and comprehensive guide to the intricacies of the town’s budget, and where the money goes, there is one very minor flaw. There is sometimes an over use of abbreviations.

For the reader of the guide, BOS means Board of Selectman; BOE means Board of Education; BOF means Board of Finance, and even Chairman Francis was baffled by this one, ADM means, which means “Average Daily Membership.”

Role of Essex Board of Education

The Essex Board of Education, chaired by Essex businessman Lon Seidman, also plays a major role in determining the funding of Essex schools. Seidman said recently that the new proposed Board of Education budget “reflects a 1.78% increase over last year’s budget.”

He also said, “The [Essex] Board of Education started work on our budget in December … [and] … We’ve worked collaboratively over the last several months to put together a fair budget that meets the educational needs of our young people.”

Seidman also invited Essex residents to review the Board’s budget document, which can be found at bit.ly/eesbudget2012. As noted, the Essex Board of Education will give a report at the April 19 Town Hall meeting.