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 requestReason Added cost
Percentage that it increases
the total budgetIncreased 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.