Health Care Costs To Raise Fairfield's School Spending

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Superintendent David Title (right) explains his 2013-2014 budget plan to chair Philip Dwyer (left) and the Fairfield Board of Education.
Superintendent David Title (right) explains his 2013-2014 budget plan to chair Philip Dwyer (left) and the Fairfield Board of Education. Photo Credit: Greg Canuel

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Rising health insurance and pension costs for Fairfield’s teachers and staff will account for the vast majority of a proposed 4.86 percent hike in school spending for the 2013-2014 school year, Superintendent David Title said Tuesday.

“Fully three quarters of the budget (increase) is in one line item—health care,” Title told the Board of Education Tuesday night.

Title proposed a total budget of $156,171,651 for Fairfield’s school system in 2013-2014 Tuesday night, an increase of more than $7.2 million from the previous year. More than $5.9 million of those new costs comes from an increase to benefits for teachers and other school staff members. Most of that will cover more money set aside to pay for health insurance and pension payments.

Fairfield Public Schools found late last fall that it was seeing an increase in health insurance claims from its current and former teachers from its original projections for the year. Fairfield runs a self-funded insurance program, so the town is liable for the costs of the extra claims. About $5.4 million of the increase will pay for added claims in the current school year and to cover more claims in 2013-2014.

Other increases could come in teacher’s salaries. The teacher’s union contract calls for a 2.25 percent raise in pay for the 2013-2014 school year. Title estimates that this will cost the town another $563,670 in spending.

In other areas, Title said he tried to keep costs the same as they are currently. “My strategy was to try to control the rest of the budget, whatever we could control,” Title said.

The proposed budget does not call for any major changes to the school system, even to recover areas like foreign language classes at the elementary and middle schools that were canceled because of budget cuts two years ago. One exception was at the town’s high schools, where staff will be added to keep libraries open for more hours after school and to keep computer labs open to more students during the day.

The increase in taxpayers' costs could be even higher if the state and federal governments decide to cut education spending, Title said. The state government is still looking for ways to make up for budget shortfalls this year. And the federal government is still resolving its “fiscal cliff” negotiations, which may affect money that comes to Fairfield from grants.

“I’m assuming that our state and federal revenue will remain flat,” Title said. “By most accounts that would be an optimistic projection given where the federal government is now.”

The Board of Education will hold hearings on Jan. 22 and Jan. 24 to talk about potential changes to Title’s plans. They are scheduled to vote on the school system’s spending on Jan. 29, and then it will go to the rest of the town’s government in March.

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