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The Board of Education continued its review of the superintendent’s proposed 2016-17 budget at a meeting on Thursday, January 7, when building principals continued discussing individual school budgets.
At its meeting on Tuesday, January 5, Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, shared his budget proposal for the 2016-17 fiscal year, and the board heard from elementary school principals and Reed Intermediate School Principal Anne Uberti about their schools’ budgets.
Dr Erardi’s spending proposal reflects a 3.87 percent increase in spending over the $71,587,946 2015-16 budget. The proposed 2016-17 budget is $74,361,623. Driving the increase, Dr Erardi told the board Tuesday, are health insurance cost hikes, personnel contractual agreements, out-of-district student placements, and operational staffing impacts from the Department of Education’s School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant ending this year. All of those expenses, according to the superintendent’s presentation, added $2,622,388, or 3.66 percent, to the overall increase.
The proposed 2016-17 school spending plan will be reviewed by the Board of Education during meetings before it adopts its budget at a scheduled February 4 meeting. The budget will then go before the Board of Finance and the Legislative Council for review and adoption before heading to referendum in April.
When speaking before the board, Hawley Elementary School Principal Christopher Moretti, Head O’ Meadow Elementary School Principal Barbara Gasparine, Middle Gate Elementary School Principal Christopher Geissler, and Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Kathy Gombos spoke about programs and efforts they want to continue from the 2015-16 school year — such as the district’s kindergarten world language program that is proposed to include first grade in the 2016-17 school year — and answered questions from board members.
Board member John Vouros asked the principals to expand on one section of the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Plan that reported “heightened levels of incidents of student aggression toward peers and adults, unsafe behaviors along with other concerning maladaptive behaviors.”
“The amount of BCBA [Board Certified Behavior Analyst] support presently assigned to our schools to work with teams is developing behavior plans, training staff, and providing expertise is insufficient,” the report reads. “This is an area where we believe an increase in services at each of the schools is necessary.”
The behavior and special education topic was also brought up again on Thursday, when the school board discussed the pupil personnel, special education, and health budgets.
While the principals responded saying some of the things they feel are challenges are being addressed by the budget, other aspects are still under consideration for the future.
“A lot of these things don’t have a clear cut answer,” said Mr Moretti. “So our hope as an administrative team was to open the door, start the conversation, begin research, look for things to help us address the concerns that we have. And I think we would all be able to say at this point we are landing in a spot where we are comfortable with where we are in the conversation and we are moving in the direction we need to go in.”
Board members questioned the elementary school principals about enrollment, technology, and other topics before Ms Uberti spoke about her school.
Reed Intermediate School
“In my budget, I think we asked for everything that I think we need to have a successful year,” said Ms Uberti.
Requests for Reed’s budget, according to Ms Uberti, include a full-time social worker along with the existing support staff and support for continued curricula work.
Board members asked Ms Uberti about the ongoing program efforts at Reed to implement Reader’s Workshop and whether the school has enough ability to provide social and emotional support for fifth graders next school year.
Ms Uberti said she is confident the school has adequate staff in the plan for the 2016-17 school year.
Newtown Middle School
Newtown Middle School Principal Tom Einhorn offered an overview of his school’s budget at the January 7 budget meeting.
Mr Einhorn said “careful scrutiny” was applied to make sure the school will provide each of its students with “all the programs and the opportunities that they have come to expect from our middle school.”
With declining enrollment, Mr Einhorn said some “difficult decisions” were made, like reworking the school’s cluster alignment for eighth grade. Mr Einhorn also said the school is planning to move from having five rotation courses offered to offering four courses, with the Project Adventure rotation course added to the physical education curriculum instead.
Mr Einhorn said the middle school will be reduced by four staff positions for the 2016-17 school year in total.
“In all candor next year will be a little tight,” said Mr Einhorn, after sharing that class sizes will still be within the Board of Education’s guidelines, “but with the [downward] progression with the number of students coming in over the next few years, we see that alleviating the class size going forward.”
Newtown High School
After board members asked Mr Einhorn a range of questions about his school’s budget, Newtown High School Principal Lorrie Rodrigue presented her school’s budget, along with Assistant to the Principal Nathalie de Brantes.
“We want our school to be state of the art, able to offer relevant, challenging, and high quality educational experiences for all of our students,” Dr Rodrigue said. “That is really our goal.”
The budget requests for NHS, Dr Rodrigue said, “were built upon the strong foundation that we believe we have already established, but I think more importantly reflect what we believe to be a fiscally responsible approach to setting our goals, reviewing our current resources, and developing our budget goals.”
Dr Rodrigue spoke about a number of new requests in the budget, including three advisor positions for the school’s Link Crew program, a reworking of two clerical positions, restructuring the school’s tutoring center, and a new pool scoreboard — Dr Rodrigue said the current board is beyond repair — for $14,625.
School board members asked questions about the district’s pay to participate program, athletic insurance, the recent visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and other aspects of the school’s proposed budget.
Dr Erardi said efforts are being made to post answers to Board of Education member questions about the proposed 2016-17 spending plan to the district’s website, newtown.k12.ct.us.