MIDDLEBURY-SOUTHBURY — The Monday, February 26, Region 15 Board of Education meeting opened with Pomperaug High School Principal Glenn Lungarini’s deservedly proud introduction of the four students named this year as National Merit Scholarship finalists: Justin Callanan, Eric Goa, Katrina Hon and Clara Ma.

After shaking hands with the board, they were excused since, apparently, even for finalists homework doesn’t go away.

The remainder of the agenda focused on the superintendent’s proposed 2018-19 budget and Superintendent Regina Lemerich Botsford, although unable to repeat the current year’s 0.79 percent increase, argued in favor of a 2.78 percent increase, not forgetting the long term goals approved by the board: Collaboration, critical thinking, communication, innovation, character and global citizenship.

The asking price is $69,353,669.

That the region’s standards for excellence have been continued and maintained were noted in this year’s four National Merit Finalists; four students were named AP Scholars or higher in 2017; Pomperaug High School was rated 12th in the state in the prestigious U.S. News and World Report 2017 ranking.

A.P. exam candidates maintained a 79 percent average. And the college acceptances achieved by the Class of 2018 include Boston College, Cornell, Harvard and Northwestern.

Region 15 is not alone in the struggle to maintain and continue these high standards despite budget challenges that the Connecticut School Finance Project identifies as “declining revenues, continued growth of fixed costs and looming, unfunded pension obligations [which] are expected to stress the state’s finances for the near future, potentially causing large deficits.”

Measures the region has already undertaken include self-insurance with $1 million saved annually since 2013-14; converting from oil to natural gas at Pomperaug High School and Rochambeau Middle School, which saves $50,000 in the 2018-19 budget; investigation into solar electricity for potential future savings that is ongoing.

Estimated total savings in this budget is listed as $271,425.

Enrollment decline at Region 15 schools is not a secret and a 16-member Enrollment and Space Utilization Study Committee is now sitting.

The goal is to recommend alternative plans for facility use in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, bearing in mind that 45 percent of districts state-wide spend more than Region 15.

Committee members represent the Board of Education, officials from both towns, community members, administrators, teachers, parents and the district.

So what does the superintendent’s Budget Plan for Excellence offer? Replacing aging technology; additional Chromebook carts; a new science curriculum at the elementary and middle school levels; a new A.P. environmental science course; community-building approach to discipline in kindergarten to eighth grade; $271,425 in new efficiencies with increased fixed efficiencies; increased fixed costs funded; $200,000 included for unanticipated special education contingency; reasonable class size maintained.

Budget workshops are scheduled on Wednesdays, March 14 and 21, with the board’s presentation of the budget on Wednesday March 26.

There will be a presentation of the budget on Monday, March 26, to be followed by a public hearing and adoption of the budget at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 2, at Pomperaug High School’s AP room.

The referendum will be in both towns on Wednesday, May 2.

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