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The Public Weighs In On Education Budget



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The Public Weighs In

On Education Budget

By Eliza Hallabeck

Before the Board of Education voted on its 2012-13 budget, it heard from several residents at a scheduled public hearing for the budget on Thursday, January 26.

“We thank you all for coming tonight to share your thoughts with us on the proposed budget spending plan for the 2012-13 year,” said BOE Chair Debbie Leidlein at the start of the meeting.

On Tuesday, January 17, Dr Robinson delivered her budget report, recommending a 4.63 percent increase over last year’s budget, and a 5.31 percent increase if the board implements full-day kindergarten within the district.

The 4.64 percent increase would create a $71,122,794 budget, and the 5.31 percent increase would create a $71,579,456 budget.

Last year, the school district’s budget passed referendum at roughly $67,971,000.

Dr Robinson also told the school board, if the budget remained the same for the 2012-13 fiscal year, the contractual obligations and other scheduled increases would put the budget at a 2.26 percent increase.

The board finalized its budget on Tuesday, January 31. (See separate story.)

A number of high school students spoke during the meeting on Thursday night.

“It is my understanding that the position of our current choral director, Jane Matson, is at stake,” said Katie Wolff, a Newtown High School student. “I am appalled that such a suggestion could even come to mind in Newtown, which has always been a huge supporter of its arts programs.”

Other students also spoke in favor of the school board continuing the position of Newtown’s Director of Music Michelle Hiscavitch and retaining Ms Matson as the high school’s choral director. Ms Hiscavitch’s position as the director of music is listed as one of two district positions to be cut in the proposed budget to make room for two district level instructional leaders for math/science and language arts. If her position were to be removed from next year’s budget, Ms Hiscavitch would bump the newest music department hire in Newtown, Ms Matson.

NHS student Kyle Watkins spoke next, saying removing Ms Matson from NHS would risk the order and unity of the school’s music program.

Others also spoke in favor of retaining the two music positions during the meeting, including resident Mike Cummings, who said he was there to represent the parents of students involved in the NHS Marching Band and winter programs.

Multiple residents also spoke in favor of maintaining the position of District Health Coordinator Judy Blanchard, who has the other district level position listed as cut in the superintendent’s proposed budget for 2012-13.

NHS student Mary Oliver said she could not imagine where she would be had it not been for Ms Blanchard. Through her involvement in grant-funded Community Conversations and other opportunities, Mary said she has worked with Ms Blanchard on different community service projects.

“As long as I have known Ms Blanchard she has always been someone who you want to be,” said Mary. “She is so sweet and she is so warm. She always makes kids feel comfortable. The Newtown High School students deserve to have an education from her.”

Both Ms Blanchard and Ms Hiscavitch also spoke during the meeting.

Ms Blanchard began by explaining the savings to the district if her position is cut would only include the salary of the person who she would be “forced to displace.”

Ms Blanchard also said she wanted to highlight three of the responsibilities of the district health coordinator. The district health coordinator engages the schools and community, she said, on the subjects of sex education and substance abuse, is responsible for curriculum writing, and she also conducts a drug, alcohol, and substance abuse survey for students and community members annually.

“This role is vital to the schools, the Newtown Prevention Council, and to the greater community to ensure that we continue our vigilance to these issues,” said Ms Blanchard.

When Ms Hiscavitch spoke, she first shared news from the last winter concert in the school district, a fourth grade concert for the Middle Gate Elementary School chorus that started just before the board meeting Thursday night. Ms Hiscavitch said the concert was “awesome.”

She also said shuffling staff within her department can be disorienting for students.

“We’re all doing the very best job we can, and will continue for your children,” said Ms Hiscavitch. “But as soon as we start to break out of those molds of our expertise, and I know we are certified [kindergarten through twelfth grade music] and that makes it easy to say, well go teach something, but we really hone our expertise.”

Newtown, Ms Hiscavitch said, has one of the most outstanding music programs in the state.

“I’m very proud of that fact,” Ms Hiscavitch continued. “It has nothing to do with me, the person; it has to do with the position, the coordination, and tying all those loose ends together and finding the right people to fit those positions.”

Later in the meeting, school board member John Vouros said he does not support removing two positions to make room for something else in the district.

“That is not what Newtown is about,” said Mr Vouros, “and I have been here long enough to know that.”

Board Vice Chair Laura Roche also asked Assistant Superintendent Linda Gejda to supply the school board with job descriptions for the proposed math/science and language arts instructional leader positions before the next school board meeting, January 31, when the board was scheduled to approve its budget.

After being asked the priority in which she would list the four district level positions, Dr Robinson said one compromise would be adding the math/science instructional leader in the next budget and hold off adding the language arts instructional leader until the next fiscal year. She also said she wants to bring math and science to the same level of excellence expected from the music department and the health department now.

Full-Day Kindergarten

A number of residents also spoke in favor of implementing full-day kindergarten in the district for the 2012-13 school year, while one resident said she was not in favor of implementing a full-day kindergarten program.

One speaker, Catherine Hall, who works in the math department at NHS, said she attended the meeting to speak in favor of implementing full-day kindergarten.

“I do believe honestly that the curriculum starts in kindergarten,” Ms Hall said.

Later during the meeting, Ms Leidlein asked her board members to indicate whether they would support implementing full-day kindergarten in next year’s budget. All of the school board members said they were in favor of implementing a full-day program, but Ms Roche added she wants more information about how the prekindergarten program in the district would be alerted as a result.


School Bus Aides

After a number of residents spoke out during the meeting against removing bus aides from special education preschool buses in the district, Ms Leidlein asked Dr Robinson to respond.

“The bus aides are not being removed from the preschool buses,” said Dr Robinson. “The issue of use of aides was discussed yesterday. It was questioned. We did look at that, questioning why so many hours were being billed, and they are not being removed.”

The superintendent also said parents were called on Thursday [January 26] and asked what would happen if the aides were removed from the buses.

Ms Leidlein asked Dr Robinson to make sure parents were notified the decision was made not to remove the aides from the preschool buses.

“It feels like some people still are unsure,” said Ms Leidlein.

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