Superintendent Presents Proposed 2021-22 Budget
The superintendent’s proposed 2021-22 $81,080,697 budget represents a 3.09 percent or $2,428,921 increase from the current spending package.
Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue shared an overview of the proposal at the Board of Education’s January 19 virtual meeting. The board will inspect the budget before approving it, along with any changes or updates, near the start of February. A public hearing on the budget is slated for January 28.
“This was definitely a complex budget with respect to the challenges that we have all faced since last March and future needs in supporting our students and staff,” said Dr Rodrigue, also highlighting “economic issues that we know we will face” were a consideration.
Later Dr Rodrigue said, “This budget comes at a time when our town, our state, our nation, and the world has been dealing with a global pandemic that has, for good reason, pulled our attention away at times, raised everyone’s anxieties, and moved us in a direction we thought we would never be in.”
The school board also conducted regular business during the meeting. That business included discussion around COVID-19 and possibly drafting a letter supporting teachers receiving access to vaccinations soon.
Dr Rodrigue said the pandemic has impacted the economy and education. Board budget discussion also pointed out ways enrollment may be impacted by the pandemic.
“Our goals and priorities, however, are still focused on teaching and learning,” said Dr Rodrigue, “and we have recognized that we will need to incorporate social/emotional learning and academic supports as we identify those learning areas, those learning gaps, and ensure our students are making progress and, in the end, finding success.”
“Responsible design” budget decisions, Dr Rodrigue noted, included being mindful of enrollment and class size, supporting personnel during a global pandemic, using data to employ resources for identifying gaps and improving math and literacy, expanding staff training and professional development, and promoting adequate staffing.
Budget goals highlighted in the presentation include implementing academic instructional strategies and social/emotional supports to address COVID-related influences on student learning and growth; promoting a culture of rigorous learning that fosters student engagement, deepens conceptual understanding, and provides appropriate transitions between grade levels; embracing technology and digital resources that facilitate students’ application of concepts and understanding of content; ensuring policies, protocols, and practices are implemented to address diversity and equity in the creation of a positive climate; and identifying and funding training and professional development for staff.
The budget presentation also shared that 94.34 percent of the budget comes from tax revenue; the Education Cost Sharing grant covers 5.54 percent of the budget; other grants make up .03 percent; local tuition covers .04 percent; parking permits cover .04 percent; and miscellaneous fees cover .01 percent of the budget.
Dr Rodrigue also shared the administrators’ initial budget requests totaled $82,479,159, or a 4.87 percent increase from the current budget. The superintendent’s budget reduced the initial proposal by $1,398,462 or 1.78 percent.
“We scaled back after multiple discussions and deliberation with our principals and directors in central office,” said Dr Rodrigue, adding the reductions were felt to not adversely impact the district.
Budget drivers included increases in salaries, employee benefits, purchased property services, other purchased services, and property equipment, according to the presentation. Salaries — including contractual obligations — and employee benefits increases combined are about 82 percent of the budget increase.
Dr Rodrigue said the increased areas of the budget that make up the 3.09 percent proposal increase come from regular education, curriculum, and technology; special education and pupil personnel spending; and general services, benefits, transportation, and plant expenditures.
The school board began reviewing the individual proposed school budgets after Dr Rodrigue presented her proposed budget.
Enrollment continues to be a focus of unknown impact, according to meeting discussion. After recent enrollment declines, Dr Rodrigue said the district is experiencing a continued slight upward trend at the elementary school levels, with the district expected to have an overall increase of 12 students for 2021-22 across all grade levels, and that includes an increase of 89 students at the elementary level.
Some buildng principals reflected that enrollment always fluctuates ahead of a school year and, sometimes, throughout the year.
On top of normal enrollment fluctuations, Dr Rodrigue noted nearly 70 families disenrolled students this year due to the pandemic.
Staffing changes in the budget proposal include an addition of 15.03 full-time equivalent certified positions to ensure class size and a decrease of 3.73 full-time equivalent positions, all at Newtown Middle School and Newtown High School. Dr Rodrigue also highlighted the proposed addition of a diversity compliance coordinator.
The school board will continue inspecting the budget during upcoming meetings. Once the school board approves its budget, it goes before the Board of Finance and Legislative Council for review.
“While this has been, as you can well imagine, one of the most challenging years... we know [that with] the right staffing, supports, academic pathways and opportunities, school schedules, and everything that supports our students on a daily basis that they will make leaps and bounds very quickly and recover academically, emotionally, and socially. That’s our goal,” Dr Rodrigue said in closing. “That’s our wish for all of our students in Newtown.”