Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed shared an overview of his proposed operating budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year during the school board’s Thursday, January 23 meeting.
After reviewing both increases and decreases, which include certified and noncertified positions, proposed in the budget, Dr Reed said the total change from the current 2013-14 $71,045,304 budget, is an increase of $534,730, reflecting a 0.75 percent change.
The superintendent’s proposed operating budget for 2014-15 totals $71,580,034.
Dr Reed thanked everyone who attended Thursday’s meeting for taking the time to attend the budget presentation.
After outlining the Board of Education’s 2014-15 budget goals, Dr Reed shared how each of those goals would effect the budget.
“When you have the opportunity to try to summarize a budget for people, I find the first time through, I try to keep it simple and not overwhelming in detail,” Dr Reed said. “I realize there are certain key statistics that people want to understand and we’ll get to those.”
Dr Reed said every member of the community is invested in making sure the school system is one that makes people want to move into town. He also said there are a number of budget goals that are results of the events of 12/14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
When noting some large-scale changes that affect the budget, Dr Reed said the district is entering an era when technology is not a choice.
“We’re entering a new era when students are going to bring their own devices to school,” Dr Reed said, adding that network security programs will need to be bolstered.
The superintendent also noted a range of state education initiatives.
“Each of these items if taken alone would require a significant management and leadership effort to ensure success,” Dr Reed said. “When taken together, they reflect the largest shift in practice and expectation in recent public school history.”
Dr Reed went on to say the administration and school board must show they have balanced factors with a decline in enrollment in a transparent way that satisfies the community.
“Ultimately, the measure of our success will be the transparency we build, the communication with the various boards, and the support of the various boards, and the level of what kind of support that is. Is it emotional support? Heartfelt support?” Dr Reed said.
The superintendent said he does not see anything beneficial about having multiple referendums to pass a budget.
“I think it is so confusing to the public,” Dr Reed said. “Our goal is to have the kind of budget and to make the difficult decisions through this process while it is at the board’s level that convinces the community that we have the integrity to make difficult decisions,” Dr Reed said. “And we need to earn the support of the community so that when we ask the support and give them reasons, people don’t say, ‘Well, I’ll tune in when we’re into the third referendum, because we have so many it must mean the first one or two is just getting rid of some of the fat.’”
The goal of the school board and the superintendent, Dr Reed said, is to make hard choices, help people understand them, and, “hopefully earn your support.”
A Cost-Effective System
Dr Reed said the Newtown Public School district has been a cost-effective system for the last 30 years, with general rankings between 134 to 149 out of the 169 school districts in the state. According to his presentation, that ranks Newtown in the bottom 20 percent of school districts for per pupil expenditures.
He also noted that the school district also ranks within the top 15 to 25 percent on state assessments, but he said he believes in continuous improvement.
“I believe every organization has a responsibility to find ways to improve every year,” Dr Reed said.
Dr Reed updated the school board during its workshop on Thursday, January 30, that Newtown's current per pupil expenditures ranking is 120, due to the district's decrease in enrollment and increase in grants.
A very important question, Dr Reed said on January 23, is whether the district is working to lesson the burden on local taxpayers.
“I think that is a very important question that needs to be addressed at budget time,” said Dr Reed.
Since last March, Dr Reed said the school district has been awarded $3,242,000 to help meet mental health needs, $511,016 from the first phase of a Justice Assistance Grant, approximately $1.2 million was given to the district through donations, and $50 million from a state grant to build a new Sandy Hook School.
Dr Reed said the vast majority of those grants and donations are on the shoulders of other people, taxpayers across the state and country.
“We are the very grateful recipients of this,” Dr Reed said.
He also noted the school district saves money on purchases, like supplies, by being a member of a cooperative with 65 other school systems. By buying in bulk, Dr Reed said, roughly 20 to 25 percent is saved.
Other areas of savings Dr Reed presented included converting a portion of Hawley Elementary School to use natural gas to save roughly $42,000 this coming year, also using natural gas at Reed Intermediate School and Newtown High School is estimated to save $250,000 annually, and reorganizing the school district’s transportation system, which occurred roughly two years ago, is projected save $2.9 million over the five-year contract with All-Star Transportation. Dr Reed noted the school district is in its second year of the contract with All-Star.
“I don’t think the study of leaving a system that we used for years was easy for anybody,” Dr Reed said, about the transition of Newtown’s owner-operator-run buses to use All-Star Transportation for the majority of bus runs in town. “That decision was made and was predicated upon economics in part. I just want to report to you that in the first year we think we saved close to $1 million dollars.”
Dr Reed said that transition is one of the most obvious ways the district has looked for ways to economize, “even when it is perhaps a painful place to look.”
The school system, Dr Reed said, is in a cycle of declining enrollment. According to his presentation, the school district had 4,961 students enrolled, including out-of-district students, for the 2013-14 school year, and the projected enrollment for the 2014-15 school year is 4,786.
Dr Reed said reductions were made to district positions during the 2013-14 school year, and reductions are also in the 2014-15 school year.
According to the presentation, certified positions expected to be eliminated in the 2014-15 fiscal year include ten possible elementary school positions, 3.1 positions from Reed Intermediate School, 4.29 positions from Newtown Middle School, and 4.54 positions from Newtown High School. Noncertified positions that are proposed to be eliminated include three part-time clerical positions at the elementary schools and two custodians in the district.
Dr Reed also proposes new positions be added to the district. Those positions are a part-time transitional special education teacher, a special education teacher at NMS, and 1.71 special education job coaches.
When combining the proposed position reductions with the additional positions, Dr Reed’s presentation says there will be 18.34 fewer certified positions in the district for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Including noncertified positions, Dr Reed said there will be about 21 fewer positions in the school district.
The superintendent also included an anticipated savings of $325,000 from “turnover” in positions.
Many of the increases in expenditures estimated for the 2014-15 fiscal year, Dr Reed said, are offset by savings from the proposed eliminated positions.
Dr Reed said his proposed budget is his best judgment for what the district will need for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
“This is my budget,” Dr Reed said. “Tonight it becomes the Board of Ed’s budget.”
School Board Deliberations
The Board of Education is set to deliberate and look over the budget during workshops before it is scheduled to adopt its own budget proposal on February 6.
The budget presentation was also videoed live for Charter’s Channel 17 and streamed live online by 2003 Newtown High School graduate and Datto Inc CEO Austin McChord. Dr Reed took a few moments at the start of the meeting to introduce Mr McChord and thank him for his efforts Thursday and for his donation, roughly $50,000, to technology efforts and the technology club at the high school.
“It gives me an enormous amount of joy to be able to give back to the Newtown school system,” Mr McChord said.
Dr Reed also announced people can contact the school district to set up a meeting with someone from the school district administrative team to discuss the budget.
“I just want to mention that we’ve established a speakers’ bureau, and we welcome the opportunity to have a chance to have somebody visit with your club or organization. We said if you want to get five or six people together at somebody’s home, and we can find a mutually convenient time and date, somebody from the administrative team would be happy to come out and join you,” Dr Reed said.
The superintendent’s proposed operating budget is also available online off of the school district’s website, here.
This story was updated to reflect Newtown's current per pupil expenditure ranking within the state.