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Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue presented her proposed budget to the Board of Education at its first budget workshop meeting on January 9.

As presented, the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Budget Plan is $75,990,687, or a 2.22 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The school board will review the spending proposal before approving its budget, which will then be passed on to the Board of Finance and Legislative Council for review.

The first budget workshop meeting was originally slated for January 4, but it was postponed due to snow. The school board is set to adopt its budget on February 1. A public hearing and discussion on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, January 30, at 7:30 pm at the Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street, at Fairfield Hills.

“I really truly believe our budget tells a story — not solely about numbers or percentages, or even the bottom line— but also about the quality of teaching and learning, social/emotional wellness, and safety that we know our students deserve,” said Dr Rodrigue. “My job, our job, is to advocate for all Newtown students in a fiscally responsible way, and the budget proposal is the venue for doing just that.”

The district’s seven principals first put together a requested budget, which was presented to Dr Rodrigue for review. The Administrators’ Initial Budget Request was listed as $78,116,598, a 5.08 percent increase of the current budget, in the presentation. Dr Rodrigue said her budget reduced the requests by $2,125,911, 2.86 percent, to come to her requested spending plan of $75,990,687.

The proposed budget, she said, is the result of work by school district leaders with focuses on social/emotional learning, support systems, new programing, alignment with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) principles, alignment with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and ongoing work around concept-based curriculum and personalized learning. Dr Rodrigue said she hopes the budget shares a “push for high expectations, quality instruction, and continuous improvement within the framework of fiscal responsibility, thinking, planning, and future efficiencies.”

Dr Rodrigue shared three goals of the district that she feels are reflected in the budget: Expanding pathways that afford opportunities for personalized learning to prepare students for college, careers, and the world; developing and implementing a rigorous social curriculum to promote and model social/emotional wellness and positive behavior; and providing students with the opportunity to be co-collaborators in their learning.

“All of this was incorporated this year into the administrative team’s goals,” said Dr Rodrigue.

With the goals in mind, Dr Rodrigue said priorities in the budget included sustaining quality programs and initiatives; maintaining appropriate class sizes in alignment with established school board guidelines; reallocating resources in response to changing needs, the fiscal climate, and mandates; new initiatives and academic pathways; providing appropriate resources for social/emotional learning for students; incorporating shared services with the town to provide cost savings and efficiencies; and providing adequate funding for special programming and special education support.

Impacts to the budget were listed as state budget cuts and uncertainty with state aid, sustaining valuable support positions and other resources, curriculum, contractual obligations, maintenance needs, and enrollment and class size.

Dr Rodrigue shared that salaries make up 75.57 percent of the budget increase over the current spending plan, and combined salaries and benefits make up 78.3 percent of the total budget. According to the presentation, teachers will receive a one percent increase for the top step in the contract and .5 percent for all over steps under the contract. Administrators, custodians, and nurses will receive a 2.25 percent wage increase, secretaries will receive a 2.5 percent increase, and the contract with paraeducators has yet to be negotiated, according to the presentation.

Noting that for the 2016-17 budget, Newtown was cut roughly $476,000 from state support through the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, Dr Rodrigue said the district anticipates receiving $4,756,332 next year. Later in the meeting, School District Business Director Ron Bienkowski explained the amount was passed in the state’s two-year budget, but changes can happen at the state level.

“We don’t believe cuts will be any more draconian than they have been already,” said Dr Rodrigue. “Our planning, however, considers what we know, what we were provided for funding this year, and the grant funding that we do anticipate for next year.”

Other state, federal, and private grants have supported the district over the last five years, according to Dr Rodrigue, and some positions in the district will be funded by grants next year, including an administrative position for the kindergarten to twelfth grade director of counseling, which will be funded by the NoVo Foundation for the next two years.

Enrollment

Dr Rodrigue said enrollment is being monitored across the district, and the district is exceeding the high expectations from a 2014 Milone & MacBroom enrollment study.

“We have relied on our own persistence [projection] model, which uses three-year persistence factors for kindergarten, and five years for all other grades,” said Dr Rodrigue, adding that next year the district will have 106 fewer students across the grades, according to the projections. “… But an increase of 20 students is expected across the elementary schools. The projected total of next year’s population is 4,263 students.”

Changes in student enrollment does not always correlate with a reduction in staff, Dr Rodrigue explained.

“These decisions also rely on a more critical review of programming, educational needs, and new initiatives,” she said about staff reductions.

For perspective, Dr Rodrigue said over the last ten years district enrollment was down by 1,339 students and certified staff positions have been decreased by roughly 37 teachers.

“It is not a one to one correlation,” said Dr Rodrigue.

According to the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Plan, a total of 10.2 full-time-equivalent (FTE) certified positions are being reduced and proposed noncertified staffing reductions include a network support specialist. Proposed certified staffing additions equal 3.85 FTE positions and 3.87 noncertified FTE positions.

Speaking about the staffing reductions, Dr Rodrigue said, “These cuts are connected to decreased enrollment in specific areas, reallocation of resources, and/or changes in programming.”

The reductions include a second grade teacher a Hawley Elementary School, a second grade teacher at Head O’ Meadow Elementary School, two fifth grade teachers at Reed Intermediate School, and four positions at Newtown High School. A position listed as a .8 music teacher at Reed under the reductions is connected to a part-time position at NHS, which will continue and is connected to a music teacher position at Hawley, according to Dr Rodrigue, who added that the person in the part-time position at Reed will continue teaching.

Dr Rodrigue said two positions — a network support specialist and purchasing director — are being requested as additions to the budget that will be shared services with the town.

“The priority is to continue to find ways to share services to provide potential cost savings,” said Dr Rodrigue.

In summary, Dr Rodrigue said the proposed budget considers “the most important aspects of the operational plan.”

“We not only want to sustain quality education but [also] future growth, new initiatives in STEM, social/emotional practices, and consistent counseling services for [kindergarten through twelfth grade],” Dr Rodrigue said. “We want to ensure adequate funding for special programs and supports, investments for shared services that could provide cost savings and internal efficiencies moving forward, and provide adequate funding for the upkeep and security of our facilities.”

Dr Rodrigue said she believes the proposed spending plan does “all of those things.”

The school board also heard information about the individual school budgets at the meeting. A further look at all of the school budgets will be in the January 19, 2017, print edition of The Newtown Bee.

The Superintendent’s Requested Operational Budget Plan 2018-19 is available on the district’s website, www.newtown.k12.ct.us.

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