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Public School Budgets Reviewed During Two Board Of Education Workshops

Published: January 18, 2018

The Board of Education reviewed the proposed budgets of Newtown’s seven public schools at two budget workshops, held on January 9 and January 11.

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 continue to 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 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.

After Dr Rodrigue presented her proposed budget on January 9, school board members heard from administrators about the proposed individual school budgets for the elementary schools, Reed Intermediate School, and Newtown Middle School. The board then heard about Newtown High School’s proposed budget on January 11.

Elementary School Budgets

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 Dr Kathy Gombos spoke about the elementary school budgets.

Overall the budget for the four combined elementary schools is $32,109,344, a $629,885 or two percent increase from the 2017-18 spending plan. According to a graph in the proposed operational plan, Hawley School budget is 7.6 percent of the total school district proposed budget, Head O’ Meadow is 7.6 percent, Middle Gate is 8.7 percent, and Sandy Hook School is 8.6 percent.

“Our number one priority at the elementary level is definitely our school counselors,” said Ms Gasparine. “We really encourage the Board of Ed to maintain the current level of support we have in our buildings, because the need is increasing, not going away.”

School counselors support students and serve as a resource for social/emotional well-being and mental health support, according to Ms Gasparine.

Other items in the elementary school budgets that Ms Gasparine said are both points of pride and priorities include further supporting the implementation of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), furthering personalized learning, expanding the district’s Spanish immersion program to second grade, supporting social/emotional learning programs, offering a leadership training retreat in the summer for each school, and continuing to build makerspaces.

Safety and security were listed under “Challenges and Budget Considerations” in the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Plan for the elementary schools’ budget. “We are asking that the district maintain this level of coverage and support the fees associated with our security measures,” the budget reads.

According to Mr Geissler, the district has seen a growing need to support English Language Learners (ELL), who do not speak English as their first language. Mr Moretti stressed the elementary schools are also seeing an increased need for behavioral supports, which counselors and mental health personnel provide.

Board member Andrew Clure questioned whether the number of students in classes is equal across the elementary schools, and board Vice Chair Rebekah Harriman-Stites suggested looking at the school board’s class size guidelines in the future, then potentially reevaluating student needs and supports with the guidelines in mind.

Also during the discussion on the elementary school budgets, Dr Rodrigue said the district is planning to evaluate the lead teacher positions at Hawley, Head O’ Meadow, and Middle Gate along with the assistant principal position at Sandy Hook School to determine the best roles and needs at the schools for leadership.

Reed Intermediate School

Saying she feels her proposed budget reflects what Reed Intermediate School needs to fulfill the mission of the Newtown Public Schools, Principal Anne Uberti shared her excitement for the developing science curriculum and pilot program for a new STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) special course.

The school, she said, has seen a slight decrease in enrollment, and staffing reductions reflect the decrease.

Reed’s proposed budget is $4,488,211, a $35,969 or .81 percent increase from the 2017-18 budget. Reed’s budget is 14 percent of the total school district spending plan.

The Superintendent’s Requested Operational Plan’s reads in part, “The projected student enrollment at Reed for next year is 618 (287 fifth graders and 331 sixth graders). While there is some concern regarding the number of new enrollments Reed typically acquires over the summer, if these numbers hold, a reduction of a cluster, or two classroom teachers, in fifth grade would put class sizes at a manageable 24. This would allow room for an additional 12 new students at grade five and 20 new students at grade 6 before class sizes would all reach 25 students.”

According to enrollment data shared in the Operational Plan, Reed had 902 students in the 2008-09 school year. Next year’s projection of 618 is a decline from this school year, which has 648 students attending the school.

Ms Harriman-Stites asked Ms Uberti how the school determines which clubs to offer in its activities budget. The school completed an interest survey a few years ago and added new clubs in response, like a Rubik’s Cube club, according to Ms Uberti, who also said the school monitors student participation in clubs.

Newtown Middle School

NMS Principal Tom Einhorn said the school principals were all asked to put budgets together that support student social/emotional growth along with academic growth, while being fiscally responsible.

NMS’s proposed budget is $5,137,815, a $155,704 or 3.13 percent increase from the current budget. NMS’s budget represents 16 percent of the total school district spending plan.

Over the years, Mr Einhorn said difficult staffing decisions were made, but the school has maintained student programs.

Based on projected enrollment, Mr Einhorn said, “We’ve been able to project that we will need four clusters of four teachers at seventh grade, and that same configuration in the eighth grade.”

Mr Einhorn said the number of clusters and teachers will keep class sizes at roughly 21 students in seventh grade and 22 students for eighth grade classes.

“One of the things I would like to share is a new program that we are proposing for next year that compliments the Project Lead the Way program at the high school,” said Mr Einhorn, adding that Project Lead the Way (PLTW) also offers a middle school component called Gateway. The Automation and Robotics program through Gateway is being proposed as an addition to the NMS class offerings.

According to PLTW’s website, pltw.org, its programs offer “engaging, hands-on classroom [environments] and empower students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive.”

In the proposed program for NMS, students would have the opportunity to create robots that will be built to solve “real-world problems,” according to Mr Einhorn.

“We’re looking to pilot that for next school year,” said Mr Einhorn. He added the pilot is not listed in the budget, because the school is seeking grant support for the program. If the program is approved, it would need to be funded in future school years, Mr Einhorn said. For students who take the course, it would take the place of three quarter-long specials classes.

“We are anticipating that students will find this challenging in an area that they want to participate in,” said Mr Einhorn. He later added, “I think it has great promise to expand the STEM programs for our students.”

Mr Einhorn also explained the proposed school budget includes six new sports coaching positions.

Newtown High School

NHS Interim Principal David Roach spoke about his school’s proposed budget at the board’s budget workshop meeting on January 11.

The proposed budget for NHS is $12,042,773, a $157,272 or 1.32 percent increase over the current budget. NHS’s budget represents 37.5 percent of the total school district spending plan.

Mr Roach said he is proud of his school’s communication with students and parents, the safety and security of the building, the continued support of the PLTW program at NHS, the school’s Project Adventure program, and the school’s award-winning sports, music, and other programs.

Budget drivers at NHS, Mr Roach shared, include needs based on school improvements, recommendations, and state mandates; ensuring adequate resources to maintain high-level of quality programs; class size and enrollment across disciplines; and contractual obligations.

The proposed NHS spending plan includes the reduction of one English teacher, one science teacher, one math teacher, and one world language teacher, which Mr Roach explained would remove Chinese as a course at the school.

Requested new positions and items in the NHS budget include two sports coaches, two musical instruments, and funding for a new PLTW biomedical course.

After school board member Dan Delia and Ms Harriman-Stites asked for more information about removing Chinese at NHS, Mr Roach explained the course averaged seven students in four classes, or roughly 28 students taking the course.

If the course is removed, Mr Roach said the students “will not be able to continue the Chinese program, but they will earn the credit for graduation and they can take something else.”

Board members also asked questions around funding sports programs and travel. School District Business Director Ron Bienkowski said the money the district collects from its pay-to-play sports program will be kept “in district” to offset program expenses.

Board member Andrew Clure asked questions around reevaluating funding support for sports and other students programs to help parents, and Mr Delia asked questions around equality in how the programs are funded.

The school board’s next scheduled budget workshop meeting is January 23, at the Newtown Municipal Center, at 7:30 pm.

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