Litchfield School Board Questions Two-Year Budget Cycle

June 28, 2013

by Kristen Hoffman

The Litchfield School Board entertained the idea of having a two-year budget cycle.  Board Member John York spoke with Board of Selectmen Member Frank Byron and Town Administrator Jason Hoch on two occasions regarding the topic.

In order to further the exploration, York said the School Board would have to approve of $500 to fund attorney fees to see if this could be used in Litchfield.  The town intends on doing the same.  York estimated that it would take two to three hours of the attorney’s time to come to a final recommendation.

The structure of the school board’s budget would stay the same, with the exception of the actual number.  Voters would vote for the budget every two years.  The school board budget would be voted on during the state’s budget cycle.  The town’s budget would be on off years.  York said the School Board would still have a yearly deliberative session.

York said the School District Budget is so similar from year to year that the process could be beneficial, saying the years of returning 500,000 to 1 million at the end of the fiscal year to voters is something of the past as budgets have become more streamlined.

York said as far as he can tell,  a two year budget cycle would have three needs-  a capital reserve fund, which would exist to fund unexpected costs such as an increase in fuel costs or unforeseen repairs.  A Healthcare Trust Fund, which would collect funds for unforeseen healthcare costs changes and a SPEd Fund, to take care of changing costs in Special Education.

Following a two year budget cycle would be beneficial to the school board in that they would have more time to develop and evaluate curriculum said York.  “Right now we have three, maybe four months per year to work on curriculum,” York said, stressing that budget season takes up the majority of the Board’s time.  Typically, the board works from March through December on their annual budget.

Business Administrator Steve Martin said the school district’s budget software can only handle one year at a time.  “It can list future needs, but cannot produce a second year budget,” Martin said.

Money from the first year of a two-year budge t would roll over to year two’s budget.   According to York, rising expenditures would be covered by the three trust funds.

The school district would still have a yearly deliberative session and town meeting.  Budget items would include contracts, and warrant items, every other year, the ballot would include a budget option.

“It’s better for planning and priorities.  Right now year-to-year puts towns and schools in a reactive mode.  It doesn’t allow for long term planning,” Superintendent Brian Cochrane said.

York stressed that all the kinks and issues have not been examined as their have only been two preliminary meetings and the issue still has a long way to go before they board finds a formal direction.