No speakers at Hartford school budget hearing.

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By EJ Conzola II

NYVT Media

Voters in the Hartford Central School District had nothing to say at a public hearing on the district’s proposed $13.4 million spending plan for the 2024-25 fiscal year – because none of them attended the hearing.

The budget plan decreases district spending by about $942,000 from the current year’s $14.3 million – what Superintendent Andrew Cook described as “an extreme reduction in spending” – but increases the amount to be raised by taxes by roughly $134,000. The higher levy represents a rise of 3.5%, less than the state-imposed cap on the levy of 4.66%, Cook said.

The spending decrease comes in part through the elimination of three teaching positions in the elementary school and the reduction of two others from full time to part time, Cook said. The cuts were necessitated because the amount of foundation aid – money from the state that carries no restrictions on how it can be used by a school district – remained flat but overall state aid dropped significantly, leaving the district with an original projected budget gap of roughly $800,000.

State aid represents roughly 59% of all district revenues; the tax levy accounts for about 30%.

“State aid is our lifeline,” Cook said.

A budget gap represents the difference between expenses and revenues.

Had the district maintained spending except what it was obligated to raise by contract or higher prices, the levy increase would have exceeded 9%, Cook said.

“The budget does not have a lot of flexibility,” he said.

Increases in the cost of health insurance ($420,000), the amount of money required to pay the district’s debts ($92,000) and growth in the number of students participating in Career and Technical Education, which carries increased costs totaling $80,000, also contributed to the budget gap, Cook said.

“In order to balance the budget, the district had to significantly reduce spending, and although line item expenditures were reduced where possible, the district still had a significant gap,” the superintendent said. “The only way to close the gap was to eliminate positions.”

District leaders opted to make the cuts in the elementary school faculty because that school has seen a drop in enrollment in recent years, Cook said. Although the cuts will force the district to consolidate several classes, the affected classes were all small and the combinations will not result in class sizes that would be considered too large for effective teaching, he said.

After a review of all district programs, school officials determined the staff reductions “would be least disruptive to the entire school experience,” he said.

While no one turned out for the formal budget hearing, Cook noted that several residents had attended the Board of Education’s budget work sessions and provided their input into the process.

Voters will have another opportunity to express their thoughts on the budget proposal when they vote on the spending plan May 21. They will also decide whether to continue the district’s annual update of its bus fleet by purchasing a 66-passenger school bus for no more than $165,000 – money that will not affect the budget – and choose a person to fill a seat on the five-member school board. Incumbent Janine Thomas was the only person to file a petition for the seat.

Voting will take place between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. in the middle/high school building.