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School Board Discusses Further Cost Savings



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School Board Discusses

Further Cost Savings

By Eliza Hallabeck

Faced with deep cuts to its original budget proposal recommended by the Board of Finance and ratified this week by the Legislative Council, the Board of Education addressed potential areas of saving in its 2010-2011 budget, April 6.

Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson was asked to determine their feasibility in the event that the proposed budget passes in a referendum later this month, and the school board needs to make the cuts recommended for its budget.

The $69,415,876 school budget passed by the Board of Education on February 9 reflected a 4.8 percent increase over last year’s spending package. A month later, the Board of Finance reduced the requested increase by $2.5 million, leaving the school district with a $679,805 increase for the coming fiscal year. The budget passed the Legislative Council on April 7 (see related story) and will go to referendum on April 27.

In an announcement of the subject, school board Chair Lillian Bittman reminded the public the board had not yet discussed school board secretary Debbie Leidlein’s idea to redistrict two elementary schools to be kindergarten through second grade and two elementary schools to be third through fourth grade, before the meeting.

Ms Bittman also said the ideas were not found savings, but areas the board would look into for possible savings.

Other ideas listed are reconfiguring transportation, renegotiating transportation, a 1.4 percent salary reduction in the district, removing updating seven-year-old computers at Reed Intermediate School from the budget next year, decreasing to 180 school days for students, reduced plant operations, removing the Newtown Middle School Moving Up Ceremony from next year’s budget, combining overhead operations with the town, and finding alternative funding sources for after school activities and interscholastic sports at Newtown High School, Newtown Middle School, and Reed Intermediate School.

While members differed on whether each idea is possible, the board listed all the options to be looked into.

Ms Leidlein said she originally started looking into to her idea because she wanted to find ways to implement programs that would bring the district closer to its strategic plan while potentially reconfiguring teaching positions in the district.

“I’m not saying this is the answer,” said Ms Leidlein, acknowledging it would be disruptive to school communities.

The school board listed Ms Leidlein’s idea as something to be looked into for the future, not for next school year.

“I think this is a good starting point,” said school board Vice Chair Kathy Fetchick, after saying many different resources would need to be gathered to consider the idea.

School board member Richard Gaines clarified for the public that no idea will be voted on by the school board until the budget passes referendum.

When asked to respond to the idea, Dr Robinson said it would take a deep feasibility study.

“We’re talking about now putting in another transition for little guys,” Dr Robinson said. “That’s a concern.”

The idea goes beyond the potential cost savings, according to Dr Robinson. Using Sandy Hook School as an example, she said she would hold that school up to any school in the country.

“And if we have things that are working so well, why do we want to destroy them?” she asked.

In October, said Dr Robinson, the decision to hold any possible expenditures that could be held was made, “because we were concerned with what we would not be getting in the way of [Excess Cost Grant reimbursement money] in February, and I didn’t want to hit February and suddenly find that we had a big hole in the budget and have to lay off teachers as Shelton did and Naugatuck did.”

Things like library books were held, but, she said, “anything that needed to happen, happened. So it was never a true freeze. The Board of Education never took an action on that.”

At this point, Dr Robinson continued, the school district has received roughly 84 percent of the 86 percent reimbursement grant.

“What we also have to remember is our expenditures for special education were considerably more than we put in the budget,” she said.

The district is currently looking at a $103,000 deficit in special education funding, and that is with the full reimbursement of the grant assumed, according to Dr Robinson.

School board member Bill Hart moved, with Kathy Fetchick seconding, for the board to direct Dr Robinson to continue to be as conservative with spending and to report to the school board any funds that may be freed by doing so for the purpose of returning savings to the town, if possible.

After deliberation, the board voted unanimously for the motion.

Other Business

The Board of Education also discussed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports on air quality at Newtown Middle School and an update on the Newtown High School expansion and renovation project.

Dr Robinson said the construction schedule for the NHS project may slip slightly due to an overlap in contractors. The project is getting down to detail work, she said.

She also said the project continues to move along, and, “The cafeterium looks absolutely fabulous.”

Occupational hygienist Savita Trivedi completed an OSHA report for NMS and Hawley, and Dr Robinson spoke to both during the school board’s meeting on Tuesday.

“As you recall, we had reports, and there were quite a few questions we had. There is a division of OSHA that will come out at request and give us a report on the air conditions in the area. This is not the division of OSHA that fines you and gives you all sorts of warnings,” said Dr Robinson during her report.

There was one warning, according to Dr Robinson, and that was based on an electrical outlet that was incorrectly wired.

“She came out three times doing the air quality studies,” the superintendent said. Adding later, “You will see there is quite a bit of improvement in the air quality at the middle school. The highest ones remain the A and C wings on the upper level; however, her recommendation is when a door was open, when a window was cracked there was no problem.”

Hawley School, according to Dr Robinson, was found to have higher numbers than the ones recorded at the middle school.

“Once again it is an issue of getting air into the rooms,” she said regarding Hawley’s report.

Board of Education member Bill Hart recommended that Dr Robinson ask Director of Facilities Gino Faiella to monitor the electrical usage at each school, to better understand what the board should expect for costs next year with ventilation running.

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