Danbury superintendent proposes adding over 70 positions to schools

Photo of Julia Perkins
Danbury High School. A proposed bill that would boost state support for K-12 education would increase the state's support for Danbury schools by $15.5 million.

Danbury High School. A proposed bill that would boost state support for K-12 education would increase the state’s support for Danbury schools by $15.5 million.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

DANBURY — The school board is poised to request $13.3 million more in city funding for next fiscal year—the largest dollar increase in at least a decade.

Administrators proposed a $149 million budget that would add nearly 77 positions due to enrollment growth and other challenges, as well as invest in various initiatives.

“Not only is our population growing, but increasingly it’s more expensive to properly educate our population of kids,” Courtney LeBorious, the district’s director of finance and operations, said during a budget workshop on Tuesday evening.

The school board’s finance committee blessed the proposal Tuesday, with the board expected to vote on it Wednesday evening. The mayor and City Council will later review the budget.

In arguing for the 9.82 percent spending increase, administrators reiterated ongoing challenges Danbury has faced, including rising enrollment and a high number of low-income, special education and English learner students. The district also needs to address academic gaps due to distance learning.

The district has struggled because funding from the state and city has not kept up with this growth, officials said.

“It’s a house of cards,” Superintendent Sal Pascarella said.

Superintendent of Schools Sal Pascarella speaks before Anthem and the Regional YMCA of Western Connecticut unveiled a new mural at Morris Street Elementary School Thursday evening. Anthem provided the YMCA with a $25,000 grant to promote the program Go!-5-2-1-0. January 31, 2019, in Danbury, Conn.

Superintendent of Schools Sal Pascarella speaks before Anthem and the Regional YMCA of Western Connecticut unveiled a new mural at Morris Street Elementary School Thursday evening. Anthem provided the YMCA with a $25,000 grant to promote the program Go!-5-2-1-0. January 31, 2019, in Danbury, Conn.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

This budget also needs to create a foundation for the programs the district wants in the proposed career academy for the middle and high school, administrators said.

“If we don’t start digging out of this hole and start to make incremental growth in these areas to support the growth that our school district has experienced, we’re not going to be able to realize those dreams for our kids,” said Kara Casimiro, director of assessment and instruction.

The district’s budget this fiscal year is nearly $147 million, but the city provided about $136 million of that. The rest came largely from additional state and federal funding, as well as city money the district did not spend the previous year.

Danbury expects to get $10.1 million in federal COVID relief, but this money can only be spent on pandemic-related expenses, not general operations, Pascarella said. The district is also planning for a $2.8 million increase in the state Alliance grant.

The governor’s budget proposal keeps flat the education cost sharing grant the district receives, with Danbury targeted to get $37.7 million.

Pascarella said the district needs this increase from the city, regardless of these grants.

New positions

Among the key positions proposed are two nurses, as well as 14 student behavioral specialists for the elementary, middle and high schools. Both are critical amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

“Many of us are projecting that a lot of our students are going to come back with even more social emotional concerns and demands than they had previously,” Assistant Superintendent Walston said. “So, we are seeing this position being critical to support the principal leadership, but also to support the overall school climate and building.”

Kevin Walston Assistant Superintendent

Kevin Walston Assistant Superintendent

File Photo / The News-Times

For English learners, 14.2 positions, including bilingual teachers and other staff members, are recommended.

The district aims for one EL teacher for every 65 EL students, said Augusto Gomes, curriculum administrator for the ESL, bilingual and world language program. This is higher than districts like Norwalk and New Haven, but better than a few years ago, when Danbury EL teachers, particularly at the elementary level, had 100 or more students, he said.

“If this is approved, we believe we’re moving in the right direction,” Gomes said.

Also proposed are two high school counselors, with plans to add more of these staff members over the next three years. The high school has one counselor for over 300 students, and the New England accreditation agency urged the district to hire more.

Adding two more counselors over the next few years would bring the district closer to a 250-student ratio, said Kelly Truchsess, director of pupil personnel services.

“It’s a small drop in the bucket,” she said. “But ultimately, my fear is, if we don’t start to moving in that direction, our numbers are going to continue to build and we’re going to be even further and further behind the eight ball.”

More Information

Proposed budget for 2021-22

Prior year funding from city: $136 million

Prior year budget: $137 million

Proposed increases:

Maintenance: $7.2 million

Grad requirements and kindergarten enrollment: $945,000

Student social emotional intervention: $1.22 million

Special ed and related services: $424,000

Curriculum programming and support: $1.8 million

ELL programming: $915,000

Learning loss mitigation/summer school: $250,000

District operations: $575,000

Funding needs: $6.15 million

Total general funding increase: $13.3 million

Proposed 2021-22 new funding total: $149 million

9.82 percent increase