From the Hartford Courant

Bristol Budget Showdown Is April 20

Dan Stacom

With less than a week to go before city leaders set a new budget, the school system will make a final pitch Wednesday for a bigger increase.

Mayor Ken Cockayne’s administration has recommended adding about $1.4 million next year to the education system’s $106.8 million budget.

But the school board has said it might close one or possibly two schools unless it receives at least $4.7 million in new funds.

“The $1.4 million doesn’t (completely) pay for our increased benefit costs and next year’s pension contribution, let alone salaries or our ballooning special education budget,” board Chairman Christopher Wilson said Tuesday. “We’ve been under-resourced for quite a while.”

“The schools are still in play,” said Wilson, who would not identify which ones would be targeted.

School unions have asked their members to attend the session to show support for education spending.

Bristol educators have complained for years that their operation receives less money than most comparable school systems in the state. Bristol’s education budget stood at $102.4 million four years ago; nearly half of all the increases since then has gone to state-mandated special education, the school board has said.

The city closed the Jennings, Bingham, O’Connell and Memorial Boulevard Middle schools in the past five years. It now operates two high schools, two middle schools, two kindergarten-to-eighth-grade schools and six elementaries.

When the budget season began, the schools proposed an increase of about $9 million to add programming and staff as well as cover rising costs of existing programs. Wilson said that even the current $4.7 million request wouldn’t be enough to provide new services.

The schools’ proposal includes about $900,000 for the single biggest part of the budget: salaries. That amounts to less than a 2 percent increase.

Transportation, building maintenance, employee benefits and pensions will add $3.7 million in costs next year, according to the schools.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at city hall. On April 26, the finance board and the city council will jointly set a new budget for municipal government and the schools.