The Groton Town Council approved a $72.64 million budget for the public schools Thursday, a zero percent increase over the current fiscal year.
Councilors also approved several capital projects for the schools, although not as much as the school department asked for.
“It does not happen by chance that we’re able to come in with stable budgets,” Superintendent Paul Kadri said. It's the third year the schools have had no increase.
Enrollment is projected to be relatively flat or slightly down next year at about 4,900 to 5,000 students, according to the budget. Groton’s main source of revenue, the state education grant, will remain stable at about $25 million.
The schools were able to save $1.5 million in health care costs, which helped offset any increases they might face.
Groton Mayor Heather Bond Somers said she’s heard from residents who believe that savings should have been used to reduce the school budget. But Somers said the town also uses a similar approach to managing budgets; or uses savings obtained to avoid future tax increases and keep the town budget stable.
Kadri said he's concerned about the future because next year he may not have health care savings and will face $2 million in other costs that escalate with time.
“I’ve got to tell you it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse,” he told the council. “If I’m feeling less than resoundingly loved at zero, I can only imagine what it’s going to be like with an increase.”
He said Groton would have to invest more in its schools at some point. He said he’s squeezed out almost as much money as possible with efficiencies.
“We have got to figure out how we’re going to survive the next few years as a community,” he said.
The council also approved several capital projects, but not as much as the school department wanted.
The department had asked for $100,000 to design a fire safety system for S.B. Butler Elementary, because the school does not have a sprinkler system or escape windows in most of the building.
Butler, like several other Groton schools, meets code because it was allowed to make due with an alarm system for early detection that was deemed sufficient in the 1980s.
“This comes to the top every time because it’s a safety issue," said Wes Greenleaf, director of buildings and grounds for the public schools.
Somers agreed it should be dealt with.
“I’m not comfortable knowing there’s a possibility that kids could be trapped in a school,” she said.
However, other councilors said they did not want to invest in a system for a building that might be scrapped later.
“Why would we want to put the money into that school where, potentially in four years, it could be gone?” said Councilor Bruce Flax.
The council denied the request.
The council also rejected a request for $54,000 to develop fire safety improvements for the school administration building, where about 55 people work. The building has fire extinguishers.
Councilors approved plans to design fire safety improvements at Mary Morrisson and Charles Barnum elementary schools, pointing out that those schools are expected to remain in the future.
The capital projects approved Thursday are listed below:
- $75,000 to develop a new school construction plan that could be brought to voters at referendum.
- $250,000 to remove non-friable asbestos from Mary Morrisson Elementary. State grants may be available to reimburse half the costs.
- $600,000 to fix the roof at Fitch High School. State grants may be available to reimburse half the costs.
- $108,000 to design fire safety improvements at Charles Barnum Elementary. The school has no sprinklers or escape windows. State grants may be available to reimburse half the costs.
- $270,000 to replace the steam boilers at S.B. Butler Elementary. The school department had asked for an additional $5,000 for the boilers, plus $100,000 to deign fire safety improvements.
- $90,000 to design fire safety improvements at Mary Morrisson Elementary. The school has no sprinklers or escape windows. State grants may be available to reimburse half the costs. The council denied $80,000 to make improvements to the school’s parking areas.