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BOE Moves 2023-24 Budget To Finance Board



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The Board of Education’s 2023-24 spending plan was unanimously approved at its meeting on January 31. As approved by the board, its 2023-24 budget request is $85,990,974, roughly $3,856,335 or a 4.7 percent increase over the 2022-23 budget.

With the school board’s approval, the proposal will now be reviewed by the Board of Finance, continuing through the budget process to the Legislative Council after that and before going to voters at referendum in April.

Superintendent of Schools Chris Melillo presented his initial 2023-24 spending proposal at a January 17 meeting totaling $85,989,669 — a roughly $3,855,030, or 4.69 percent, increase over the current year’s spending package.

The school board then inspected the budget over the course of multiple meetings. It heard from representatives from different areas of the requested operational plan and asked questions regarding specific areas.

The school budgets and more were inspected between January 19 and January 24 meetings, as previously covered by The Newtown Bee.

Officials then inspected other areas of the budget at a January 26 meeting, starting with the Technology Department budget. Director of Technology Dennis Colclough explained impacts to the technology budget included increases in contractual services and increases for equipment.

According to the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Plan 2023-24, the requested Information Technology Services budget was $1,776,772, a $432,068 or a 31.13 percent increase from the current budget.

Then other areas of the budget were discussed.

As explained in the Superintendent’s Requested Operational Plan 2023-24, the Continuing Education budget request was $191,100, a $12,738 or 7.14 percent increase from the current budget; the requested Plant Operations and Maintenance budget was $8,128,431, or a $549,431 or 7.24 percent increase from the current year; the requested Employee Benefits budget for 2023-24 was $12,550,333, a $526,943 or 4.38 percent increase; the General Support Services requested budget was $3,578,866, or a $51,839 or a 1.47 percent increase; and the Transportation Services budget was $5,132,025, or $11,705 or .23 percent more than the current budget.

Adjustments And Approval

The January 31 Board of Education meeting opened with a public hearing on the budget proposal. The school board then began deliberations and approved its version of the 2023-24 spending plan.

Two members of the public spoke during the public hearing: Newtown Federation of Teachers President Trent Harrison and Hawley Elementary School paraeducator Linda Biscoe, a former Newtown Paraeducator of the Year award recipient. Both speakers asked for the proposed removed paraeducator, also called paraprofessional, positions in the superintendent’s spending plan to be reinstated.

“We know there has been learning loss due to COVID,” Harrison read from a statement. “We know we are getting more and more students who need more individualized attention and instruction. In order to protect and enhance the instructional core, we need to keep the staff who are in direct contact with the students in place. Paraprofessionals are instrumental in maintaining the high levels of instruction in our classroom.”

Harrison asked the board to allow “the people of Newtown” to vote on the budget with the paraeducator positions reinstated.

“I request, please do not remove any positions,” Biscoe said, adding that the paraeducators love their jobs and work with all students.

Ahead of the meeting a number of district paraeducators waited outside Newtown Municipal Center with signs, asking for their positions to be reinstated to the budget and describing aspects of their jobs.

After the public hearing, district Director of Business & Finance Tanja Vadas shared technical adjustments made since the budget was first presented to the school board. With those changes, the school board was looking at a $85,933,138, or a 4.62 percent increase from the 2022-23 school budget, a decrease from the superintendent’s spending proposal.

Once the technical adjustments were approved by the board, members began debating possible motions. Other than the technical adjustments, only one budget change was presented: Adding four library paraeducator positions back to the budget proposal for $57,836.

“We’ve heard a lot of reasons why the library [paraeducators] are important to the school, important to the libraries,” member Dan Cruson said, after making the motion.

After discussion, the motion passed unanimously.

Later, when questioning what the process would look like without other paraeducator positions reinstated, Board of Education Vice Chair John Vouros mentioned the total rough estimate for the other paraeducator positions removed from the superintendent’s budget proposal is $200,000.

Paraeducators Issues

As previously reported by The Newtown Bee, the superintendent’s 2023-24 spending proposal first included the paraeducator reductions, with the superintendent’s stated hope that those personnel would choose to transfer to positions for special education paraeducators.

At the January 31 meeting, Melillo said between grants ending, costs for negotiating contracts, and other expenses, he was faced with a “rolled over” budget with a 7 percent increase. In a year that he said is hard on local families financially, Melillo said he and his administrative team came up with a plan that while it removed positions, could maintain people.

“And that was important,” said Melillo. “It wasn’t easy for any of us to move positions away from anyone.”

The proposed positions for special education paraeducators, the superintendent pointed out, are mandated.

“It’s not perfect ... but it is a budget that keeps people here if they want to be here. And that was important to all of us,” Melillo said.

Multiple board members described the budget as fiscally responsible while being supportive of education.

Board of Education Chair Deborra Zukowski shared concerns for the budget, such as the cost of COVID-related repercussions, making sure special education students receive the services required, transportation both in and out of the district, elementary school enrollment projections, and economic inflation.

Even with those concerns, Zukowski said, “I think what we have is the best budget we could have at this time.”

Following the meeting Newtown Public Schools Paraeducator Union President Marlene Bucci said the 1.54 instructional paraeducator positions at each elementary school left as budget reductions, after the school board reinstated the library paraeducator positions, represent eight positions.

She also said there are roughly 140 paraeducators in the union, including special education paraeducators.

“Reductions of those instructional paraeducators will have a direct result on student learning and support of the teachers and students. And if our focus is protecting the instructional core, that is not achieving either of those,” Bucci said.

In a letter Bucci sent to the school board on behalf of the union, shared with The Newtown Bee, she wrote, “Our instructional paraeducators provide a layer of support to our ‘goal hugger’ students on the cusp of proficiency either through direct support or allowing teachers additional time to work with these students. Paraeducators are another layer of eyes, ears, and support partnering with our teachers, protecting and enhancing the instructional core. In addition, many of these paraeducators may be asked to substitute in the classroom or as a special education [paraeducator] in the shortage of substitutes.”

Education Editor Eliza Van can be reached at eliza@thebee.com.

The Board of Education discusses its 2023-24 spending plan at its January 31 meeting, which was streamed live from Newtown Municipal Center.
School district paraeducators gathered outside Newtown Municipal Center and held signs, asking for their positions to not be eliminated from the 2023-24 budget and explaining aspects of their jobs, before the Board of Education’s January 31 meeting. —photo courtesy Marlene Bucci
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