Proposed School Budget, Up By 1.5 Percent, Goes to Hearing

Satisfied that the recommended operating budget for the 2015-2016 school year is reasonable and fair, the School Board voted to move Article 2 to a Jan. 15 public hearing.

Member Steve Young said with the proposed reduction in teachers, teaching aides, and other small items, he’s comfortable going to the public hearing with the Superintendent’s proposed budget of $67.5 million, which is $382,264 below the Default Budget. The proposed budget is a 1.5 percent increase ($1,051,691) over the FY15 budget.

The tax rate impact of the budget is a decrease of 6 cents from last year’s tax rate, from $12.65 to $12.59. The budget request and the default budget do not contain salary increases for the teachers’ union and Allied Health contracts, which the voters will decide on in the election.

“It looks like the way the budget is presented, a level budget won’t give us the result we want. Most of the cuts down look like reasonable cuts to make,” Budget Committee member Mark Aronson said.

Asked to bring forward proposed cuts for a level-funded budget, Superintendent Nate Greenberg presented a list of other possible cuts, noting he would not recommend making any of the reductions.

“What we do is build a budget around what we intend to do over the next several years, and we try to do it in a sequential way,” he said. In the case of materials and books, for example; learning materials are directly tied into the curriculum and program.

“We have what I consider to be a frugal cycle for our books at eight to 10 years,” Greenberg said.

Staff development opportunities offer teachers an opportunity to hone skills and develop new instructional strategies. And co- and extra-curricular activities are becoming an important aspect of students’ college applications, according to Greenberg, emphasizing the importance of increases in those areas of the budget.

“We’re looking to meet our college and career ready goal of 95 percent of students accepted to two- and four-year colleges by 2020,” he said.

Greenberg said even if the board chose to make any of the additional cuts on his list, such as school materials and coaches needed to satisfy demand for sports programs, he still couldn’t get to a level-funded budget.

“I just had nowhere else to go,” he said, noting any reductions below what he has proposed in his operating budget would affect the quality of education and hinder schools’ ability to meet the District’s goals.

Of concern to Donna Traynham of 11 Faucher Road, who spoke during the meeting, is the proposed reduction in instructional assistant hours at the elementary school level.

“We moved here because of the school system,” she said. “Over time, we have seen a number of cuts come due to the challenge of generating support from the taxpayer base. While we have done our best to maintain quality education, eventually these cuts are going to hurt.”

Traynham noted in a time where children are expected to meet higher standards and achieve competencies, it’s critical teachers have enough support in the classroom.

“I hope at some level the dialogue is more about how we increase the supports we provide to teachers to do their job and do it well,” she said. “With too many pressures, they will go somewhere they can get paid better and have more resources.”

“The last time the Superintendent came to us with these type of changes, I advocated for the teaching assistants then and I advocate for them now. I found having assistants in the classroom a very progressive and supportive idea for students at the elementary level,” Vice Chairman Nancy Hendricks said. “When we have teachers leading reading groups and students who may not have heard directives, how long will they wait before someone comes and helps them? I didn’t really get an adequate answer to that.”

“I don’t have a background in education, so I don’t want to say it has to be instructional assistants; but I would instead challenge the staff to ensure those children that may not have gotten a lesson don’t get lost along the way,” Chairman Leitha Reilly said.

Greenberg said they are all concerned about student-to-adult ratios, but through a reorganization of staff, he and school administrators are confident students will continue to receive the individual instruction they need to be successful.

“We’re looking at a different model using certified staff members,” he said. “By keeping certified staff on and restructuring, I think we’re headed in the right direction. This is a more effective model. We’ve been talking for years about how the school is one classroom and there are a variety of personnel with different skills, and how do we bring those different skills together? We have tried to be very conscientious about the numbers and I feel comfortable with what we’re doing.”

Addressing the need for budget cuts, board member John Laferriere noted the budget would have been running significantly lower and the tax rate would have been much lower had the District not had to subsidize downshifted costs from the state, a total of about $3 million in three years.

“It would begin impacting the quality of education if further reductions were made to level fund the budget,” he said. “When moving into this town, the quality of education is really important. The problem with the budget is we’re trying to manage the shift from the State, now we’re digging into education to see if we can save more.”

The total estimated tax impact of the proposed budget, excluding other warrant articles, is $12.59 per thousand.

The School Board additionally approved and moved to the public hearing Article 1, to elect two members to the School Board for three-year terms each; Article 5, which allows the District to re-enter negotiations with the teachers’ union or Allied Health, should either of their contracts fail in the election; Article 7, the School Buildings Maintenance Expendable Trust Fund in the amount of $400,000, which is anticipated to have a tax impact of $.11 per thousand; Article 8, the Equipment Capital Reserve Fund for $100,000, which has no tax impact; Article 6, the School Lunch Program and Federal Fund Projects, which has no tax impact; and Article 10, the Co-Curricular and Athletic Stipends in the amount of $8,069, which has a tax impact of $.002 per thousand.

Reilly said the District is in the process of researching alternatives to the federal lunch program for the future.

All the warrant articles, including the budget, will be open for discussion at the Jan. 15 public hearing.