MERIDEN — Under the $208.87 million spending plan for fiscal year 2022-23 adopted by City Council earlier this week, the school board will see its funding request fully allocated.
City budget figures show $102.18 million in funding for the council. This full stipend came after some financial maneuvering, including no longer requiring the board to pre-fund a portion of its health insurance for school district employees each year.
This education funding figure includes a $1.67 million increase in local funding over the current year’s budget.
In previous years’ budgets, local contributions represented approximately 36% of the school district’s overall revenue. State funding, through Education Cost Sharing and Alliance District Grants, accounted for more than half of school district funds, with state budget figures showing that the district is expected to receive over $69.15 million in 2022-23. During this time, federal funding accounted for more than 8% of the district’s overall funds.
Historically, Meriden has ranked near the bottom of school districts in spending per student. For example, according to figures shared last month, Meriden’s average spending per student of $14,788 in the 2020-2021 school year ranked only above the lowest-ranked school district, Danbury, who had spent $14,729 per student.
“This is great news for our students, staff and families,” said school superintendent Mark D. Benigni. “This is the first time in over 12 years that we have received a significant raise from the city.”
Benigni thanked city officials and the council “for presenting a budget that truly recognizes” the importance of education.
“This budget will allow us to continue with all current positions in the budget funded by our board. And it will also allow us to maintain some grant-funded positions that will be with us for the next two years. In particular, officials plan to focus on the district’s youngest learners, who have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
City officials acknowledged that full funding for the council’s request was long overdue.
“We owe them far too long,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati said at the April 28 finance committee meeting.
Councilwoman Yvette Cortez, who chairs the finance committee, said she was surprised to learn that for the past few years the council has been using federal grants to fund its budget and not investing city funds. city.
“Federal grants are meant to supplement, not replace, city funds,” Cortez said, adding that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it had become very clear that school district staff and students had “sacrificed enormously”.
Cortez and other council members asked city officials to consider where further concessions could be made to help fund the education budget. They included cuts in other areas of the proposed budget: no longer allocating funds to an assistant city manager or an assistant tax assessor.
“We asked them to come up with a million dollars and it’s not an easy amount,” Cortez said, adding that city officials “did a great job of really prioritizing that.”
Cortez said for her that one of the biggest issues facing the school system, in addition to meeting the academic needs of students, is meeting their behavioral health needs.
“We realize that if our children’s mental health isn’t good, they can’t learn,” Cortez said, noting that acknowledgment of this fact is no different from past realizations that it’s also important to provide students with daily breakfasts and lunches.
“The Board of Education uses its money very appropriately,” she said.
Councilman Ray Oullet, a Republican who previously served on the council, also described the money as “absolutely well described and much needed.”
Meriden Public Schools assistant superintendent of finance and operations Michael Grove said district officials are working closely with City Manager Timothy Coon, Chief Financial Officer Kevin McNabola and Scarpati to determine the amount of funding the district would need to “maintain all staff and services this year.”
“It’s a good step in the right direction,” Grove said. “This is one of the first years that we’re fully funded, and we’re not going to go back and make cuts and program reductions.”
Grove said that in the past, officials would come back to cut positions, which were often open due to retirements and resignations.
Council Chairman Rob Kosienski Jr. said he and his council colleagues are grateful for the support from city and council officials.
“It was really a collaborative effort with the support of Mayor Scarpati,” Kosienski said. “…We are thrilled to be fully funded.”
Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona said that historically, the city’s funding to the school board “hasn’t really kept up” with other districts of similar size and with similar student demographics.
Cardona, like Cortez, said he doesn’t believe the state intends to supplant local funding.
“The city can’t just fund education flat,” Cardona said.
Journalist Michael Gagné can be reached at [email protected].