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Darien School Chief Plans 8% Budget Increase

The budget for the Darien schools is expected to increase by $5.7 million, or 7.97 percent, for the 2011-12 fiscal year to cover contractual obligations to teachers for salaries and health care, increased enrollment and loss of federal grant money.

"Even if we were to hold our all staffing as it currently exists, meaning no additions and no reductions, our contractual obligations are still almost $1.9 million, which equals 2.7 percent of the overall budget increase," said superintendent Stephen Falcone, who is presenting his first budget as superintendent of the Darien schools.

The total proposed budget comes to $77.2 million. The proposed increases include $1.9 million in raises and $1.2 million for health care costs for teachers, as well as $1.08 million in special education increases and a loss of $456,000 in grant money.

"In terms of enrollment, we're looking at 30 more students next year," Falcone said. Of those students, 23 are expected at the high school, where a new teacher will be hired, along with a new guidance counselor.

Falcone said Darien spent $14,981 per student last school year. "Our per pupil spending is below the DRG average," he said, referencing Darien's district reference group, which includes New Canaan, Westport, Ridgefield, Weston, Wilton, Easton and Redding. Darien spends nearly $1,000 less per student than the average of those schools.

Overall, $648,860 of the budget will be spent on new staffing. Nearly half of that is proposed for the hiring of five foreign language teachers for the elementary schools. "We don't bring forward the idea of foreign languages because we see it as some kind of enhancement or add-on or specialty. We believe it is core to what we are doing with our students," Falcone said.

The budget allots $606,000 for the highest priority projects, which includes renovations of the Middlesex gym, screen plantings for the stadium field at the high school, and exterior PA systems and dump truck replacements for the entire district.

The budget planning is in its first stages before being finalized and approved. Over the next couple of months, the Board of Education will be meeting with members of the RTM and Board of Finance, as well as holding a public meeting at Town Hall on Feb. 1. The budget will be submitted to the Board of Finance in March, to be voted on in April.

What do you think of the proposed budget for the 2011-12 school year? How do you think the school board could decrease its spending? What proposals do you think are most important? Let us know in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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