School budget talks start at 3.24%

Superintendent Deborah Low threw out the opening pitch of budget season last Monday night, seeking a 3.24%, or $2.6-million, increase to $83.9 million for the school district in 2013-14.

About half a million dollars of the increase is for security staffing — eight security guards, two police officers and one of their cruisers and a mental health professional. These are the early fruits of a push to overhaul security in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

“Obviously the world changed very tragically since Dec. 14,” Ms. Low told the Board of Education

Most of the increase, $2.1 million or 2.61 of the total 3.24 percentage points, is not security related.

Salaries are the biggest single item in the budget and were the biggest cause of the increase. They account for $1.5 million, bringing the salaries cost from $49.5 million to $51 million.

The increase is in part driven by the new teachers’ contract, which includes 2.9% increases for three years, but also with the addition of 11.55 “full-time equivalent” (FTE) positions.

That doesn’t mean 11.55 new employees. In some cases it just means adding hours to people’s existing jobs, which is less expensive because it doesn’t mean more benefit packages.

Some of the positions have already been added to meet enrollment demand or in the case of some paraprofessionals to reverse a mistake of overzealous cutting in last year’s budget.

“We got three teachers and we traded out six paraprofessionals, which was a good idea, but I had to put some of them back because some of their day was spent supervising lunch, recess and bus, and I needed to add that back,” Ms. Low said.

Despite a per-day pay raise from $80 to $90 that Ms. Low said is “a long time coming,” the substitute line item will drop by about $80,000 from the $420,000. She hopes to accomplish two things — to more accurately estimating an item that in the past has been overestimated, but also to reduce the professional development that is done during class time.

“We’re going to try to decrease the disruption to educational time,” Ms. Low said Monday. She later added, “It’s getting to the point that it’s getting to be too much. We can’t disrupt instruction for kids…

“What helps us a little bit with that,” Ms. Low said, is that in the new contract “there will be an additional one hour per week for on-site work for staff development activities… and then maybe we could use more of the summer time” for professional development.

There are other offsets — notably a $514,000 year-to-year savings in the new bus contract, which was approved Monday. Few details were available afterward and the business manager was not available Tuesday to discuss specifics of the new contract.

One big item was a new math textbook for three elementary grades at a cost of $135,000. That is part of a $208,000 improvement to elementary math, which also includes $35,000 for training relating to new curriculum and adding math “leaders,” sort of like department heads. They wouldn’t be additional employees but added responsibilities for existing teachers, with stipends totaling $38,000.

Ms. Low told the board Monday as she presented her budget that educators have to be mindful of the decades of evolution that make a school district what it is, to be careful not to go backwards and “if anything you improve upon it.”

She added Tuesday, “I do think that this budget accomplishes our district priorities… maintains quality and moves us forward,” Ms. Low said.

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  • rdg-oldtimer

    Superintendent Deborah Low threw out the opening pitch of budget season.++++++++FOUL BALL!

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