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Supt. Falcone Asks for 5.6% Rise in Darien Ed Budget

Schools Superintendent Stephen Falcone explained to the Board of Education on Tuesday evening why and how his proposed 2012-2013 Darien education budget would increase appropriations by 5.6 percent.

Schools Superintendent Stephen Falcone proposes that Darien taxpayers spend $4.3 million more on education than last year, an increase of 5.6 percent over the current $76.3 million education budget.

"We're going to be relatively frugal in what we do," Falcone said near the beginning of his presentation Tuesday to the Board of Education. Nevertheless, he added toward the end, "We have a very generous and supportive community" when it comes to education spending.

Much of the increase in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2012, would come in areas over which have little or no control, including an expected decrease in revenues ($931,904) and increased special education costs ($562,320).

Other increased costs come from the new teachers union contract and other contractual personnel expenses, including $806,598 in added salary costs (an increase of 1.5 percent from the current fiscal year) and $875,629 in added health insurance costs (an increase of 9.2 percent over this year's spending).

The teachers union contract is due to go before the Representative Town Meeting later this month. Falcone told the Board of Education that the contract, which includes a 1.25 percent salary increase for the upcoming fiscal year, is "a fair contract that will allow us to retain our folks," and it will also help recruit good teachers when they need to be hired.

The new contract moves teaches out of a preferred provider organization (PPO) to an health savings account plan, which is part of the reason for the increase in health insurance costs, Falcone said.

Reasons for increase in budget request

Reason Added cost

Percentage that it increases

the total budget

Increased salary costs   $806,598 1.1% Increased health insurance costs   $875,629 1.1% New initiatives   $444,414 0.6% Special Education expenses   $562,320 0.7% Total of above expense items $2,688,961 3.4% Other increases in expenses (not explained)   $655,656 0.7% Total increase in expenses $3,344,617 4.1% Revenue decreases   $931,904 1.2% Net spending request $4,276,521 5.6%

Included in the $444,414 that the budget proposes to spend on "new initiatives" is about $340,000 to be used for a proposed foreign language program in town elementary schools. Much of that cost will be used to hire five foreign language teachers.

"We find it's a program that would enhance what we do at the elementary schools," Falcone said of the foreign language proposal. Other new personnel costs would include the hiring of a social worker to work with elementary school students and a psychologist to work with middle and high school students.

The increase in special education costs comes mostly from larger payments for out-of-district tuition for students with special needs. The district is trying to keep that cost from going higher by providing more special education services within the district.

Revenue from state and federal sources is expected to be reduced, Falcone said.

Total school enrollment in the district is expected to remain essentially flat, although about 30 more students than normal are moving from the middle school to the high school in the next school year.

Comparing spending with other towns

Falcone pointed out that several other school districts in Darien's "district reference group"—a group of similar school districts that state officials use for comparison purposes—spend more per pupil on education.

At about 37 percent, Darien has a significantly larger proportion of its population under 18 years old, than other towns in its district reference group: The proportion in Wilton, Weston and New Canaan is 32 percent; in Ridgefield, 31 percent, and it's 29 percent in Westport and Easton. Redding has 26 percent of its population in the 18-and-under age bracket.

The average per-pupil spending on Darien students ($15,632) is about $700 less than the average for Darien's district reference group, Falcone said. That margin has remained roughly the same for the past five years, according to one chart he showed the board.

Editor's note: This article originally was published Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 6 a.m. The time stamp has been changed for layout purposes on the Darien Patch main page.

Schuyler Colfax January 11, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Another outrageous budget submission from Mr. Falcone. 5.6% increase when the student population is flat. The administration and the Board of Ed are already trying to scapegoat less state reimursement and special education, but as the handy table shows, special ed is only 13% of the increase and any sentient human being should have budgeted for lower state contributions. Last year the increase was blamed on a higher student population despite a student population that barely budged. This year they are looking for new scapegoats. But the reality is, spending has little relationship to our student population or results. When do we say "enough?"
RPM January 11, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Hmm. My salary increases working in Corporate America have been $0 these past three years. And how does one get away with $655k in "unexplained expenses"? I know the BOE budget is separate from the BOS budget, but wouldn't it have been nice to put some of that $7m shuffle money here...
Joe Pankowski January 11, 2012 at 10:23 PM
@ RPM: please. The referendum's over and yet you still target the Shuffle's cost instead of other far more significant capital expenses over the past few years. Furthermore, I have no doubt that Dr. Falcone is doing a great job with the budget and a 1.5% pay increase is well-worth-it for some of the best teachers in the nation.
Jim Coley January 11, 2012 at 10:32 PM
RPM--so many of the BofE employees are union and under collective bargaining, so the increases are therefore 'locked' in for multi-years. Many years ago for RTM I analyzed this. The real way to look at the increases is figure out what is contractual and locked, then analyze the non-discretionary increase requests.
Jim McCann January 11, 2012 at 11:59 PM
What a weak and tepid praise of how our community pays for education. How about just saying no to Dr. Falcone and his poorly structured budget? Maybe ask for a 5.6 % reduction in the budget? Perhaps Dr. Falcone can spell out the top 5 ways he improved efficiency or eliminated costs last year? Passing on his inability to manage healthcare costs and other bloated costs/operations is not managing anything....it appears Dr. Falcones "management" is to ask for 5.6% and settle for 4.5-5%. After all he'll most likely be retiring within two years in the same way of his predeccesors. He'll leave the "mess" (when money runs out) to his successors.
max January 12, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Agree w. McCann. Also illuminates, again, why municipal employees should not legally be allowed to unionize. There is no adversarial relationship between mgmt and work for in the public sector, like there is in the private sector. They all feed from a limitless trough. JFK can be thanked for this time bomb that is now coming home to roost.
RPM January 12, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Shuffle, Weed Beach...who cares? Bloated construction-based funding for some required upgrades and more nice-to-haves. Mill rate and taxes keep going up. My family's budget is under watch, minding our spend while volatility remains high. The town should be doing the same.
John Sini January 12, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Jim, the teacher's 3-year contract was just renegotiated and will be up for RTM approval over the next couple weeks. Needless to say, the employee benefit increase and the lack of revenue are the two biggest drivers of the budget increase. Rachel, this town can't be run with the singular focus of funding the BOE budget. If these capital projects weren't delayed for many years over several admins and were addressed earlier, Darien wouldn't be facing this capital spending surge that we have experienced over the last decade. Also remember, the capital budgets are funded much differently that the operating budget, therefore have much less of an impact on y/y tax increases. I do look forward to seeing you at the upcoming budget meetings to share your ideas on how best to manage these increases.
sebastian dangerfield January 12, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Mr Mcann You call it weak and tepid... Ok it very well might be. Can you name the 5 specific (not just a broad brush buzz word stroke) programs you think can be cut or the cost cutting measures you would specifically employ to reach your acceptable level of increase? Im all for solid solutions, but believing that his budget is faulty or bloated without legitimate analysis, is nothing but ironic. If you can spell them out---I will be very impressed and grateful. However, Im guessing you just think the answer is easier than it really is. RPM Interesting that prior to the referendum, you were telling this readership that the shuffle would cause the school budget to reduced--(thereby negatively impact the quality of education.) Now that the school budget has continued to rise, you are complaining that it is too high. Now, I know the objective is to reduce costs, but to continue talking about the shuffle---seems irrelevant. It hasnt had the affect you predicted. I guess you need to be more thoughtful about what it is you want. Haha. Max-I dont disagree. But I think you might want to check out the median salary of Darien teachers, vs our surrounding areas. I looked at these about 6 months ago, and dont want to do the research again, but roughly speaking , the median darien teacher makes 72,500 a year. New Canaan 74,000 a year Norwalk 82,000 a year-- Greenwich 77,000 a year. My numbers may be off a bit-but our contracts may be bad(?) but not so bad.
RPM January 12, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Actually Mr. / Ms. Abelino, I don't recall ever indicating that I ever thought the school budget would be reduced as a result of the shuffle. I am aware that capital projects and BOE budgets are separate. My stance has always been, and will continue to be, that no matter what the project / need, those leading Darien should be very careful with their decisions on how our money is spent. Period. That's it. Simple. Clear. Ironic for a Democrat to be fiscally mindful, huh? Have a good day.
Chapin January 13, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Well it looks like we have baseline budget growth of 4.2% (fixed growth -- contractual obligations) vs. a proposed 5.6% by Falcone. It will be interesting to see where cuts come from in this budget. Does the BOE cut the $320k earmarked on Dec 15th (6-1 vote) for elementary school foreign language? Does the district psychologist ($140k) get cut from the budget for the second year in a row? Technology plan scaled back ($137.5k)? What is an acceptable growth rate? 4.5%, 5.0%? Not much wiggle room if we include foreign language. That expense raises the growth rate to 4.5%. What is the tipping point?
Jim McCann January 13, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Luca Your kidding right? There is $3.7 million dollars in this lame budget overview and increase request (but let's remember Mr. Falcone didn't have time apparently to spell out or provide deeper details) that could be cut right or dramatically reduced right now. Leave special ed budget request where it is but the rest forget about. There are less students, so we don't need more teachers and more administration. Reject all those requests for additional "staff". Falcone is suppose to find ways to make the school run more efficiently, I am just asking for 5 things that he implemented last year that saved money....he should spend all of his time optimizing the budget he has and innovating effective and impactful education for the kids.....not brainstorming up vague and obtuse ways to make budget requests. Its ridiculous to see this continue rise in budget and to see absolutely zero accountability and management of this on behalf of Falcone and all his predeccesors who in the last year of their terms signifigantly increased their pensions and salaries. We deserve better. F That would reduce the budget 10%
Jim McCann January 13, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Chapin I think the issue is to attempt to get underneath the format and percentage numbers as these budget requests are continually structured to drive a negotiation that is predicated on "oh ok, we'll cut this class experience, sports experience, or equipment availability out........." . We can't accept this anymore as "leadership or management" of our schools. We should cap this school budget as enrollment has declined. We should demand the Supt make cuts to the school budget that provide the least impact on the educational experience, and we should demand facts and proof that efficiency and savings are being realized. Otherwise, why is Supt. being paid the enormous salary and benefits he makes?
sebastian dangerfield January 13, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Thanks Mr Mcann As i expected...just a lot of buzz words. Create efficiencies. Zero accountability. Streamline. Optimization. Look--all Im saying is--its easy to leap to your conclusion. Less kids, should equal less cost. The only things I have been able to compare and contrast are --in our DRG our teacher salaries are near the bottom. Our expense per pupil is near the bottom. We have seen an escalation in special ed. expenses--which from my limited knowledge, is simply not within the jurisdiction of anyone in Darien. To look at a rising budget and immediately conclude that the guy is doing a bad job--is ignorant. Since you havent been able to give 1 example let alone the 5 you demand in order to feel that his argument would win--can we agree--you are just shooting from the hip? I mean--zero accountabilty is certainly wrong---as we have a Board of Finance and BOE that oversees these requests and 99.9% of the time reduces them. I have no kids in Darien. No grandkids--Im just a taxpayer not even a resident-so my only concern is how do I pay vs how much is my investment affected by decisions. Having been a property owner in Darien for over 35 years, I can say that your view of "no management-no accountability" is not even close to accurate. Home prices (my guess)have appreciated perhaps more in the last 20 years than anywhere in the country. Our students get into great colleges. They are sought after for their work ethic. Im ok with our system
Schuyler Colfax January 13, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Darien teachers pay is comparable to others in the district Luca. I found this information on page 5 of the New Canaan Board of Education Presentation to Board of Selectman, January 26, 2011. Teacher pay is based on longevity and educational achievement. If a school has more teachers with an MA vs a BA, its labor costs will be higher. But an MA in Darien earns the same as an MA in the rest of the district. Since the teachers are represented by the same union, it's not surprising they look for equalized wages in a DRG. As far as expenses per pupil, the biggest cost is teacher salaries, and those are impacted not by differences in salaries, but the composition of the workforce. There are big differences in transportation costs, presumably because Darien has a smaller territory, so less busing costs, and lower physical plant costs. But it's not due to lower teacher salaries.
Jim McCann January 13, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Luca--- you cite in your note you are not a resident?..Darien kids do get into good colleges but given the budgets we have, our schools should delivers on their primary function -- preparing kids for college. Expense growth is out of control. Now there's even language characterizing costs "little to no control". The expense growth rate leads to a conclusion that someday these costs will be unsustainable. It is the responsibility of the Superintendent to define why these expenses are growing so fast, how these costs can limited, and what efficiencies are being created or implemented within the current budget. As you will note, this is not even part of the current dialogue. Yes there are oversights in place, the question for all of us residential taxpayers is "Are they working?". We need leadership here. Are our schools paying a few teachers a lot of money and then covering the need with a lot of more lower paid teachers? Have Darien schools become a highly preferred "rest stop" for Supes/senior admin who come for a few years, increase their pensions, and then check out? We need more from the Supe/oversight groups in place. The rate of growth in expenses demands a long term strategy. Not citing expenses as "unexplained", or testing "the generous and supportive community". This is mismanagement. Luca, if you are not a resident......why should we accept your contentment with how these budgets are being spent?
sebastian dangerfield January 14, 2012 at 12:50 AM
jim mcann- I am no longer a darien resident. I moved away just over 10 years ago. I do however still own a business in Darien and I own 2 properties. As a result, I would guess that I pay more taxes than you do--but lets not bother comparing. I have significant investment in Darien--and quite frankly, if my views were to cut all expenses as much as possible, I would think that would make more sense- Right? But I treat my investment in Darien with a less myopic view. I realize that if we spend too much, it will hurt me, and if we spend to little it will hurt me. Can we agree there? My reaction to your bold statements are not necessarily that I disagree-but rather I find them to be uniformed. If you read back, my request of you, was to elaborate a bit on what you described as irresponsbile requests. Perhaps they are--but I think its unfair for you to see a number and call someone names. Yes Im not a resident--and your immediate reaction is to say I should have no say. Dr Falcone presents a budget -and your immediate reaction is to judge negatively, despite having , what appears to be, a very limited knowledge of what the hikes are about. M suggestion is to ask questions and see if they make sense. I have little doubt the BOF and BOE will go to work on these requests find the fat and eradicate it. Im thinking a 2.75 % increase will be arrived at. And if it deserves to be 0--then it will be 0. But i dont think either one of us knows enough to criticize
Chris Noe January 14, 2012 at 12:05 PM
I remember Falcone laughing as he was asked about the budget. This was during his campaign on stage at the town hall 16 months ago. What would any sane person expect from him? He couldn't keep a straight face and laughed much like he is in the picture on this page. I don't see Falcone as any part of the solution just more of the problem. You are wasting your time asking this guy to do anything that doesn't facilitate the growth of the suffocating government machine. Special Education is a disaster. We made a deal with the state and the state is not living up to their end of the deal therefore; the deal is over. The state hands off the expense to every town government for their failure. The residents of Darien have worked hard to achieve their goals why would any of us give it up so easily. Do you think you are doing the 'right thing'? You are not. Two years ago I interviewed two Special Ed teachers and they both said it's a waste of time and money. They echoed the amount of money being squandered on these programs should be used in another direction. They both said they can't speak publicly and were relieved to speak honestly to me.
Jim McCann January 14, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Luca- Glad to hear you are a real property holder. You have the same rights as I do. Who pays more is not relevant. If you are a landlord, I see why you wish to maintain the status quo. Most landlords pass along the cost of taxes to their rentors, and benefit from appreciation that a good school system brings (as we all do). Some avoid getting involved in substantial changes in the community. This needs an "improvement" that doesn't involve spending money, but in spendng less! Darien has spent (over and above these school budgets) over $300 MM dollars on schools in Darien over the past 15 years, in that time these school budgets have grown substantially to accomodate an expanding student population. I resist your attempt to engage in the same old tired dialogue , "what would you cut? The home ec program, computer upgrades, or the language program?". This type of gamesmanship is precisely why the budgets are close to unsustainable. Given a no-growth forecast in total number of students, dramatic decreases in state/federal funding. What needs change is budget process PROCESS. Leadership needs a new approach. I am proposing we reduce the school budget by 5.6%. The Supe should lead this process. If indeed he has the capacity because he is a product of the system he grew up in. Your call for complacency cannot stand. This "system" needs to carefully and fearlessly unraveled. The "systems" only seeks one answer: spend more. While you may be find that acceptable, I do not.

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