The Amity school district had $1.2 million left over at the end of the 2014-15 school year, and plans to return more than 80% of it to its member towns. The million-dollar pot will be divided among the three towns as follows: Bethany, $220,000; Orange $521,000; and Woodbridge $317,000, based on the number of students enrolled from each town. These dollar numbers are approximates at this point, as the annual audit has not been concluded, according to district Supt. Dr. Charles Dumais. “It seems like a large number,” he said in a phone conversation, “but the fact is in six of the last nine years we’ve had surpluses of the same size,” at approximately 3% of the whole budget.
The Board of Education at its August 10th meeting, voted to use the smaller portion of the surplus to fund a heat exchange unit in conjunction with the planned fuel cell at the high school. The unit will convert exhaust heat from the fuel cell to heat the building and water. The board, after lengthy discussion, committed $256,000 of the surplus for the heat exchanger (in addition to the $150,000 already earmarked for that purpose). It also voted to transfer $150,000 to next year’s budget, as it has done in previous years.
Board members committed the district to return any left-over money from the heat exchanger project – including any potential grant money – to the towns immediately, as a second give-back, rather than wait for next year’s closing of the books.
Dr. Dumais said he was also committed to end the practice of forwarding surplus monies from one budget year to the next. The district has been doing this for several budget cycles now to keep tax increases down. However, it also leads to a certain dependence on those funds, Dr. Dumais said. This year’s transfer of $150,000 to the 2015-16 school year budget is only half of what has been transferred in the past. The plan is to eliminate the transfer when budgeting for 2016-17.
Why the surplus: The 2014-15 savings that led to the surplus stemmed from three budget areas, mainly unanticipated savings in special education costs, also savings in staffing, and savings in electricity, water and other efficiencies. In fact, the district was awarded a CQIA award for innovative practices in efficiencies, which the superintendent announced at the August board meeting, and earned a round of applause for the district business office and its director, Jack Levine and administrator Terry Lumas.
Special education costs are always a moving target for school districts, as school officials are trying to estimate the educational needs of the following year’s students. In this particular school year, the district managed to provide services to students in house, students who otherwise would have been out-placed in a specialized environment.
As for staffing, some unanticipated turn-over and long-term absences led to additional budget savings.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent