North Haven schools chief aims to bolster technology, preserve jobs in education budget

North Haven Superintendent of Schools Robert Cronin, here flanked by Assistant Superintendent Melinda McKenna and Interim Director of Finance and Operations Frank Connolly, presented his recommended budget for the 2020 fiscal year Thursday, Jan. 17.

Superintendent of Schools Robert Cronin presented his recommended budget for the 2020 fiscal year to the North Haven Board of Education Thursday, Jan. 17.

Cronin suggested a budget of $54.61 million, an increase of $1.57 million, or 2.9 percent, over the current fiscal year.

The board is expected to refine Cronin’s proposal in the coming weeks before formally putting forward a budget for consideration by the Board of Finance.

Cronin said his main priorities were to preserve staff positions — no layoffs or hires are planned — maintain student achievement, meet contractual obligations and bolster student access to technology.

“There is no way around it — education is a labor-intensive business,” said Cronin. “We can do without things; we cannot do without people.”

The projected increase is less than the projected rise in the cost of medical insurance, wages and student transportation, Cronin said — that total comes to $1.62 million. He credited the diligence of staff members in crafting their budget requests, as well as reductions in some line items.

“I really can’t say enough about how well the administrators truly take (to) this responsibility, and how seriously they take it,” said Cronin. “They, to the one, have brought forward responsible budgets that really spoke to what children need, and what students need, in their buildings.”

Cronin went over some planned increases in the budget Thursday to explain the rationale behind them. These included more funding for staff overtime and non-certified substitutes, which he said historically have been underfunded; for cleaning and maintenance at North Haven Middle School; and for additional hours for the district’s occupational and physical therapists.

Interim Business Manager Frank Connolly said the cost of special education typically is the only major volatile variable in a school board’s budget. He said this proposal estimates the district will be reimbursed for 70 percent of special education costs that exceed the threshold set for the state Excess Cost grant, down from 75 percent this past year.

Connolly said the threshold was $74,291 in the 2019 fiscal year.

If the district spends less than that amount, it does not receive reimbursement; if it does, it is paid back for a percentage of the outlay that outstrips the threshold.

Cronin said he also hopes the district will invest in new “Clear Touch” televisions, which would replace 13-year-old smartboards at North Haven High School; restore past levels of funding for library books, periodicals and online materials; buy a new kiln for Montowese Elementary School; replace tables and chairs at Clintonville Elementary School; and add a swing for the sensory room and walkie-talkies for staff at Green Acres Elementary School.