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School Board Budget Discussion Continues

Published: January 9, 2017

The Board of Education continued its discussion of the superintendent’s proposed 2017-18 budget at its meeting on Thursday, January 5.

The Superintendent’s Requested Operational Plan was first presented to the board at its meeting on Tuesday, January 3. The $74,996,756 spending proposal represents a 1.81 percent, or a roughly $1.3 million increase, over the 2016-17 budget, $73,665,065.

The Board of Education will continue to learn about different aspects of the proposed spending plan at meetings, and a public hearing is set for Tuesday, January 31. The board will then vote on its approved 2017-18 budget at a planned February 2 meeting before the budget will go before the Board of Finance and Legislative Council for further consideration.

The school board heard about the elementary schools and Reed Intermediate School areas of the budget at its January 3 meeting. Thursday’s meeting had the board focus on the Newtown Middle School, Newtown High School, special education, pupil personnel, and health budgets. The planned discussion for the board’s Tuesday, January 10, meeting includes looking at the curriculum, technology, general serves, Newtown Continuing Education, benefits, plant, and transportation areas of the budget.

 

Newtown Middle School

NMS Assistant Principal Jim Ross and administrative assistant Terri Greenfield presented their school’s budget for the board. NMS Principal Tom Einhorn could not attend the meeting.

“[Mr Einhorn] and I are very proud of the rich experience and support provided to our students, transitioning and preparing them for the high school experience,” said Mr Ross.

The NMS budget, Mr Ross continued, supports students and is fiscally responsible.

“We have had to make some difficult decisions regarding staffing level, but this has been done in a way that still maintains all the programs and opportunities for our students,” said Mr Ross.

Proposed changes include a reduction of two teaching positions in eighth grade, and continued and expanded support for the school’s academic resource center, which was only funded for half of the 2016-17 school year but will be funded for the full 2017-18 school year in the proposal.

“If we had a wish list, the Newtown Middle School has requested an academic dean of students position that is not included in the present budget proposal,” said Mr Ross, adding the position would offer administrative support. Later he said, “Most importantly, we realize that our full-time social worker that was funded by the [School Emergency Response to Violence] grant is not included in next year’s budget. This position is vital to our students that continue to need support. If possible, we implore the Board of Ed to find the funds to allow this position to continue.”

The NMS social worker was one of three social workers also discussed at the Tuesday, January 3, meeting. That position, along with one at Sandy Hook Elementary School and one at Reed Intermediate School, was funded by the SERV grant. With the SERV grant ended, the positions were not continued for next school year.

The NMS proposed budget is $5,042,095, as outlined in the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Plan, available at the district’s website newtown.k12.ct.us. The projected middle school enrollment for 2017-18 is 698, according to the document.

 

Newtown High School

The NHS proposed budget is $11,976,768, and the projected enrollment for 2017-18 is 1,638, according to the budget document.

NHS Principal Lorrie Rodrigue thanked her leadership team and Assistant to the Principal Nathalie de Brantes for their input on the budget.

Over the last few years, Dr Rodrigue said NHS has put forward new staffing, academic officers, and other budget requests.

“We feel with that in place, we felt our goal was really to maintain what we feel is really an outstanding high school,” said Dr Rodrigue, “and we really feel proud that we have an outstanding high school.”

Everything in the proposal, Dr Rodrigue said, was based on the school improvement plan.

School improvement goals listed in the presentation were evaluating and revising student learning expectations, embedding consistent and instructional practices that engage all students in critical thinking and learning, developing and implementing communication practices that build trust and improve relationships with students, and to increase the social, emotional, and physical safety and well-being of the school community.

Considerations when crafting the proposed budget, according to Dr Rodrigue, along with the school improvement plan, included meeting New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) recommendations, maintaining education programming and services to meet student needs, contractual needs, and ensuring staff and resources appropriate for high school course selection and scheduling.

After each presentation, board members took turns asking questions about the proposed spending plans.

 

‘Not Asking For Much’

Director of Pupil Services Deborah Mailloux-Petersen, school nurse Anne Dalton, and secretary Bonnie DeLorenzo spoke about the special education, pupil personnel, and health budgets with the board.
Ms Mailloux-Petersen said the special education department is not asking for “much” in the budget.

“Essentially, aside from contractual obligations, we’re looking for a job coach for our 18 to 21 [-year-old] transition program, which is continuing to grow … and we have increased supplies for the gifted and talented program,” said Ms Mailloux-Petersen.

A number of factors, according to the presentation, combined for a slight decrease for this year’s special education budget. Within the last few months of school, Ms Mailloux-Petersen explained, two programs were implemented at the elementary schools that have met the needs of students and saved the district from outplacing students that would have been outplaced to other districts in the past. The structure of transportation has also been reworked, according to Ms Mailloux-Petersen.

According to the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Plan, the $10,239,039 special education budget 2017-18 request is .08 percent less than the current $10,246,992 budget. Ms Mailloux-Petersen said the district has 538 special education students, about 12 percent of the district’s student population, which she said is typical for area districts.

When asked about the loss of the three social workers to the district staffing, Ms Mailloux-Petersen said after speaking with administration, the work would be divided among other existing staff. At Reed, Ms Mailloux-Petersen said, there is confidence the staff would pick up the case load the current social worker has. At NMS, she continued, a part-time psychologist will be increased to full-time in place of the social worker.

Board members Rebekah Harriman-Stites and John Vouros voiced concerns with removing mental health support staff and the expectation other staff would handle the work load.

“It’s not a place we should be compromising,” said Mr Vouros.

Later, during public participation, NMS counselors Sue Connelly and Tina Broccolo said they are concerned with the loss of the social worker position. A psychologist and a social worker have different certification, said Ms Connelly. Ms Broccolo said she has noticed an increase in students who need support, and the social worker has been a valuable resource.

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