Following Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed’s presentation of his proposed budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year on Thursday, January 23, the Board of Education began hearing from advocates for different parts of the budget.
The school board heard from representatives of the elementary schools and Reed Intermediate School Principal Anne Uberti on January 23, and from Newtown Middle School Principal Thomas Einhorn, Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais, Director of Pupil Services Julie Haggard, and Newtown Continuing Education Director Elissa Gellis at its meeting on Tuesday, January 28.
As presented by Dr Reed, the proposed 2014-15 $71,580,034 school budget represents an increase of $534,730, reflecting a 0.75 percent change over the 2013-14 budget. Read more about the superintendent’s proposed budget here. The superintendent’s proposed operating budget is also available online off the school district’s website here.
“As you go through the elementary school budgets,” Head O’ Meadow Principal Barbara Gasparine began on Thursday, “you will see that they are status quo budgets. No new programs. No new staff.”
The entire elementary school proposed budget for 2014-15 is $10,302,996 for the four elementary schools. The current 2013-14 elementary school budget is $10,344,522.
Ms Gasparine said the school board was given enrollment charts with recommended staffing for each elementary school; she also said the elementary school principals feel the need to see how the rest of the school year and the summer “play out” before decisions are made. Enrollment, she said, is variable, and current recommended staffing reductions may shift with future numbers.
“We’d really like to have the flexibility to make those decisions a little later on,” said Ms Gasparine. “I can tell you that just in the past month, Head O’ Meadow has enrolled seven new students, which is a pretty high number for this time of the year.”
Continuing, Ms Gasparine said the principals report a continuing impact from the events of 12/14, and the principals see a need for continued support staff.
“Our school counselors and our school psychologists are very busy,” she said, “and we don’t see a need for that going away any time soon.”
Due to what Ms Gasparine called a “very rigorous teacher evaluation program that requires a great deal of dedicated time” she said, “More than ever we really need to rely on our school leadership teams, such as our lead teachers, to help us with the management of our buildings to meet the demands of that plan.”
Sandy Hook School Principal Kathy Gombos said the focus of the elementary schools continues to be on teaching and learning.
“We believe that our budgets, though we had to make some tough decisions from some of our cuts, that we did maintain what we needed to, to focus on teacher growth and student academic achievement,” Ms Gombos said.
After school board member John Vouros asked whether the elementary school administrators are pleased with full-day kindergarten, Middle Gate Elementary School Principal Christopher Geissler said he is satisfied with the program.
“I think the team, again, has worked very well to put together a program to meet the needs of putting in a full-day program, but also a number of new programs,” Mr Geissler said. “I think the program is terrific. It is getting better each time I go in, each time we talk and have a professional conversation. It’s getting better, and I’ve seen the kids grow immensely from the beginning of this year.”
Reed Intermediate School
Reed Intermediate School Principal Anne Uberti told the school board she spent time working with elementary teachers.
Reed’s proposed 2014-15 budget is $4,919,297. The school’s 2013-14 current budget is $4,971,245.
“It is important to me that the intermediate school is aligned and informed as to what the elementary [schools are] doing,” Ms Uberti said.
She also said her budget reflects similar things that the elementary school budget reflect, like declining enrollment and mental and physical well-being of students and staff.
“Some of the changes to my budget, there are not many increases to my budget, as you can see, but there are some shifts,” said Ms Uberti.
Some shifts, she said, include more in-house professional development instead of attending outside of the district development options.
Ms Uberti also said she has been working on her school’s schedule.
“It is as far along as it could possibly be at this point,” Ms Uberti said. “It’s not completely done, but it’s far enough done that I hope that I have been able to include what I need to make the schedule work.”
Newtown Middle School
Newtown Middle School’s proposed 2014-15 budget is $5,410,837, and its budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year is currently $5,527,225.
NMS Principal Thomas Einhorn said on Tuesday, January 28, in light of declining enrollment at his school, an adjustment to teaching positions is proposed in the budget.
“This is clearly a difficult decision,” Mr Einhorn said, “as it makes a significant impact on some of the teaching positions at the school. Clearly this has not been done lightly.”
The proposal, Mr Einhorn explained, is to reduce the number of seventh and eighth grade clusters from ten to nine.
“This would represent the reduction of four teaching positions, and would have class size around 23 students per teacher,” said Mr Einhorn.
The four-teacher clusters would still be maintained for both grade levels, Mr Einhorn said, but the ninth cluster would teach half seventh and half eighth grade students.
“These teachers would teach one subject in two grade levels,” Mr Einhorn said.
Arranging the ninth cluster to allow each of its four teachers to continue to teach one subject level, Mr Einhorn said, is in line with Connecticut’s Common Core State Standards and with professional learning communities and professional development within the school.
Responding to a question from board Secretary Kathy Hamilton, Mr Einhorn said if the proposed budget is passed with the proposed cluster arrangement at NMS, considerations will be made as to which students would be placed into the seventh and eighth grade cluster.
Mr Einhorn said the school is looking to make the proposed new cluster make-up a viable option for both eighth and seventh grade students.
The Board of Education also briefly discussed a potential need for new computer technology at NMS in the 2014-15 budget that was not included in the superintendent’s proposal, but full discussion on the topic was held until Director of Technology Carmella Amodeo presents her budget for the board.
Newtown High School
When speaking about his school’s budget, Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais said enrollment is projected to be flat, plus or minus 15 students, and staffing is proposed to decrease by a bit.
The proposed NHS 2014-15 budget is $11,473,779, and its current budget is $11,408,605.
“A couple small increases” Mr Dumais noted in the budget includes “an obligation to the gymnastics team to put a coach in place.”
Reductions include an art teacher scheduled for retirement at the end of the school year. Mr Dumais said that position will not be replaced in the 2014-15 proposed budget.
Ms Hamilton requested a “break down” of class sizes and class offerings at the school, and Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein asked for an explanation to be shared with the board in the future about why enrollment has stayed relatively flat over the last seven to eight years while staffing and costs have increased.
While Mr Dumais has not been at the high school for the full range of the seven to eight years, he shared a few likely reasons for the increases: Programming at the secondary level has grown, some full-time positions hired in that time were likely “catch up” to match enrollment, and graduations requirements have increased over the years, he said. Mr Dumais said the reasons vary for each increase, and he also said he would share explanations for the increases with the school board at a future date.
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.