FAIR HAVEN — A rough draft of next year’s Slate Valley school budget shows a slight decrease in spending, but it won’t be presented to the School Board until Jan. 6.
Brooke Olsen-Farrell, superintendent of the Slate Valley Unified Union School District (SVUUSD) said in a Thursday interview that a budget of $26,403,608 was shown to the board’s Finance Committee on Tuesday. It reflects a decrease in spending of about $90,000 from last year, or a 0.34% decrease.
“We’ve looked at savings, we’re still discussing staffing shifts, however, this is also our first year of implementing new financial software,” said Olsen-Farrell. “It’s a first draft. We really want to go back and make sure we haven’t missed anything as we transition from the old program to the new program.”
Several things may change before the draft goes before the full board Jan. 6, she said. The plan is to get feedback from the board and present a final draft for approval Jan. 21. The budget will then go before voters on Town Meeting Day in March.
“There are some expenses that we put in the budget last year in regards to safety. They were one-time expenses we didn’t need to carry over to this year,” Olsen-Farrell said. “We’ve had some retirements that we are not going to replace. We’re going to instead shift staff, so we’re trying to manage our budget through attrition.”
She said she’ll have a better idea about what staffing at the district will look like in early January.
“I think the challenge is, some of the costs we don’t have control over, such as health insurance premiums going up,” she said. “We’re budgeting a 13% increase in health care premiums. The Stafford Tech Center tuition was up 7.5%, so there are certain pieces that influence our budget that we just don’t necessarily have control over, so that’s always a challenge.”
Other unknowns are the cost of food service and transportation. Olsen-Farrell said every five years, the district solicits bids for those two services, but what they’ll come in as won’t be known until later.
A few weeks ago, the district announced its plans to ask voters to approve a $60 million bond to pay for school-wide maintenance projects and upgrades. Olsen-Farrell said several aspects of that are being determined.
“We have a Building and Grounds (Committee) meeting Monday where we really need to answer some further questions for the architect and once he has those answers he can do some better cost estimates because we actually think the cost may be lower than what we’ve put out there, but we don’t know right now,” she said.
It’s possible the bond issue won’t go before voters at town meeting, she said.
“I think the board will need to consider whether March is too tight a timeline,” said Olsen-Farrell. “We knew it was going to be tricky to get all the answers that we needed prior to Town Meeting Day, so we’re probably going to be assessing that in the next few weeks and make a final decision as to whether or not we go forward with the March vote or look for another day.”
She said the goal is still to have the bond voted on at town meeting.