August 11, 2020

Lyme-Old Lyme BOE Agrees to Move Vote on $34.9M Budget to Next Meeting, Referendum Not Required This Year

Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Superintendent Ian Neviaser. (File photo)

LYME/OLD LYME — The Lyme-Old Lyme (LOL) Schools Board of Education (BOE) met last Wednesday in a virtual meeting to host a District Budget Hearing regarding the 2020-21 budget. This would normally be the final meeting at which the public could comment on the budget prior to it be the subject of district-wide referendum in early May. (There is a meeting the night before the referendum, but that one traditionally is a formality at which the budget is officially continued to a referendum the following day.)

As with so many things this year, the scenario described above has been changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Executive Order 7I, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont waived the requirement for towns and school districts to vote on budgets by “any in-person budget adoption requirements,” including town meetings or referenda.

The board of education can therefore vote on — and potentially pass — the proposed 2020-21 District budget at their next regular meeting scheduled for May 6, which will be held virtually. The boards of finance of the Towns of Lyme and Old Lyme can similarly vote on — and potentially pass — their proposed 2020-21 town budgets at a scheduled virtual meeting.

The LOL Schools BOE had scheduled a referendum for May 5 and the towns were planning Town Meetings later in May. The referendum has been cancelled and the town meetings will no longer be required in order to vote on each town’s budget.

The April 6 District Hearing was held as a Zoom meeting with all the board members online and members of the public also able to participate. It began with LOL Schools Superintendent Ian Neviaser making a presentation on the LOL Schools’ proposed $34,909,697 budget, which reflects a 0.5 percent decrease over the 2019-20 budget of $35,084,758 2020-21.

He stated the goals of the budget were to support the objectives outlined in the Strategic Plan by:

    • Preserving and building upon┬áthe high standards of education in LOL while remaining fiscally responsible to our communities.
    • Supporting the ongoing renewal of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and staff development activities in response to the expectations of state and national standards.
    • Continuing to plan and provide technology infrastructure and applications that are consistent with highly effective and efficient programming and operational standards.
    • Maintaining high facility standards for all district buildings and grounds.
    • Maintaining a dynamic and responsive approach to programming needs and mandates in special education.
    • Maintaining both compliance and reasonability in response to state and federal mandates.

Neviaser ran through an Overall Budget Summary noting that the major significant decrease was in debt service, which is down 18.57 percent, while other decreases were present in employee benefits (5.36 percent), special education (5.5 percent) and administrative services (6.36 percent.) He said, “the budget pie looks like that of previous years,” with 40.8 percent of the budget allocated to Certified Staff, adding, “the breakdown has not changed drastically.”

Commenting, “We’ve been back to 1998,” Neviaser proudly stated, “This is the lowest budget increase on record.”

He summarized the major proposed program improvements as musical instrument replacement, social-economic learning (SEL) programming, updated materials for Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for Kindergarten through fifth grade and Smartboard replacement in the high school.

Finally he mentioned that proposed facility projects included in the budget were the replacement of three high school tennis courts ($240,000) and renovation of the Lyme School gymnasium ($435,000) and a special project to install a solar electric system at Center School, which would be funded by a Purchase Power Agreement. He also noted that he had recently heard it may be possible to add Mile Creek School to the project.

Old Lyme resident Mona Colwell had submitted seven written questions in advance, the first seeking clarification as to why the Per Pupil Expenditure had increased. Neviaser responded that this was a function of the drop in enrollment by 50 students between the 2016-17 and 2018-19 budgets. Colwell also asked why LOL Schools published rating had decreased. Neviaser said he assumed she was referring to the ‘Great Schools’ ranking and said it was “not accurate” and his staff were investigating the issue.

The third question related to pupil transportation costs and why they had increased by 26.9 percent. Neviaser noted the school district had previously benefitted from a $170,000 transportation grant which was no longer received, but also was about to start a new bus contract.

Colwell’s remaining questions related to why the board of education was allocated $400,000, why the expenditure on the tennis courts was higher this year, why non-certified salaries had increased and why $18,000 was being spent on a program to promote and enable foreign students to attend Lyme-Old Lyme Schools.

In response, Neviaser gave a detailed breakdown of BOE expenditures, which included $130,000 for purchased services, absence management, recognition banquets and background checks, and $85,000 for attorneys and licensing fees.

He noted the tennis courts was a planned expenditure and that there has been a change in the classification of non-certified staff, which affected that number. Regarding the amount planned to be spent on the foreign student program, Neviaser said unequivocally, “We will make money on that,” as a result of the tuition fees the district will receive from enrolled students.

Diane Linderman, BOE Chair, expressed her appreciation to all those involved in preparing the budget saying, “The administration has done an excellent job.”

The meeting closed with the board voting unanimously to move the vote on the proposed budget to their May 6 meeting.

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