February 25—BOLTON—The Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday night to adopt Superintendent Kristin Heckt’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, though board members questioned whether the city would approve the proposal as is.
The $16.2 million budget, an increase of $1 million or 6.88% over the current year, does not propose new programs, additional hiring, or school improvements.
Contractual obligations, special education costs, and operations maintenance are the only drivers of the increase.
Officials have said that, adjusted for the 2022 inflation rate, the budget is actually 0.87% higher than the previous year.
Heckt began the meeting with a presentation on possible budget cuts that could be made at the request of the Board of Education, though he said he was not advocating the cuts.
Heckt said eliminating all clubs and athletics at Bolton Center School and Bolton High School and eliminating seven teaching positions could provide a budget reduction of $900,000 or 5.94%.
Potential staff cuts account for approximately $570,000 of the reduction, with all other after-school programs.
“This is the level of dismantling of public education in Bolton that will take place if the Board of Finance or taxpayers slash this budget, as has happened before,” Heckt said.
Heckt said elementary class sizes currently sit between 16 and 21, and the reduction in teachers could bring that to 25 or more. World language would be removed for grades 7 and 8, following its removal for grades 5 and 6 last year. High school students would lose several class offerings, including Advanced Placement courses and early college experience.
Heckt said the district is fully staffed and doesn’t expect any employees to retire in the near future, so it doesn’t leave any open positions that could be eliminated.
Heckt said the sports and club-related costs are primarily for staff, accounting for about $213,000 of the $330,000 total. The rest finance expenses related to sports activities, including transportation.
Heckt said there could be savings for the district’s health insurance, as the increase could be less than budgeted.
“Potentially that could be a savings, but it won’t be hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Heckt said.
After the presentation, members of the Board of Education quickly reached a consensus not to make any cuts before sending a budget to the Board of Finance, which must approve it before the Board of Aldermen can send the full city budget to referendum.
Chairman Andrew Broneill said he found the presentation “shocking” and noted that possible cuts would not prevent a general budget increase.
Board member Rhea Klein said parents would probably “frighten off” if they saw the potential cuts.
Board member Scott Rich said that all students would be affected by a reduction in teachers and that almost all students participate in the district’s extracurricular activities.
Broneill said it’s hard to imagine the city passing the district’s budget, despite the severity of the cuts.
“Things certainly don’t look good,” Broneill said.
Rich said neither area has cuts that would be easy to swallow and the budget could face further reductions during the Board of Finance and Board of Aldermen processes.
“I think showing the full impact of why we are where we are is the most important thing,” Rich said.
Vice President Susan Pike said she felt an important piece of the puzzle is educating taxpayers about why the budget is so high, rather than lessening the blow.
“I think cutting it off at this point will only make the situation worse,” Pike said.
Broneill said the next step is to work on the argument that the proposed budget increase is valid and necessary.
The Board of Education will present its adopted budget to the Board of Finance on March 16.
Heckt said the district will send out a message next week to release the Board of Education’s budget and the impact of any potential cuts.
Joseph covers Manchester and Bolton for the Journal Inquirer.