Board of education approves school budget
With the coronavirus epidemic setting off an economic free-fall across the country, the question wasn’t going to be how much school districts could add to their 2020-21 budgets but rather how much they would need to remove.
Ridgefield’s school system now has a clearer idea.
Meeting virtually on Monday evening, the Ridgefield Board of Education approved a motion to adopt the revised 2020-21 Ridgefield Public Schools Operating Budget of $99,912,151. The motion passed by a vote of 7-2.
The final total is an increase of $1,718,391 (1.75%) from the 2019-20 school budget. But primarily due to raises and other contracted salary obligations, the new budget required cost cutting — a 2.96% increase would have been needed to prevent the schools from adding new positions while allowing them to maintain current operations.
Prior to the coronavirus epidemic, the Board of Education had approved a $102-million budget (3.96% increase from 2019-20) that created several new positions and increased education spending by nearly $4 million for the 2020-21 school year.
But at a meeting in April, the town’s Board of Finance approved the $99,912,000 school budget for 2020-21, leaving the schools with slightly more than $2 million to trim from their original proposal. (Executive orders from Governor Ned Lamont gave finance boards the final say on 2020-21 school budgets).
To meet the reduction, Superintendent of Schools Susie Da Silva had presented several recommendations at the board of education’s previous meeting May 26. Those included removing requests for three math coaches and a director of security and eliminating or reducing several positions — including a transition coordinator, the equivalent of two teaching positions at Ridgefield High School, and three elementary school art teachers.
Additional savings will come from reduced operating budgets. These include all schools (except Scotland Elementary School) being flat-funded to 2019-20; reductions in the technology and curriculum departments; deferred purchases of furniture and fixtures; and athletics funded at 2019-20 budget GF (General Fund) contribution amounts except for contractual obligations.
Da Silva also recommended keeping five items that were listed as either new budget requests to be removed or positions to be eliminated or reduced, including a new social worker at Ridgefield High and five part-time EL (English Learner) tutors.
The cuts to the elementary school art programs prompted the only prolonged discussion Monday night. Board member Rachel Ruggeri said she had coronavirus-related health concerns about art teachers needing to travel between different elementary schools. “I’m against this reduction,” Ruggeri said. “Each elementary school should have its own art teacher.”
Fellow board member Carina Drake noted that the board had received 24 emails from parents concerned about the reduction in art teachers at the elementary school level.
“It is important to note that our elementary principals and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction were involved in the discussions far before this budget year,” Da Silva wrote in a memo sent to the board that was discussed Monday night. “These discussions have not only involved art education, but all essentials (specials).
“This spring the team re-analyzed current instructional minute allocations across all six elementary schools ... and [made] comparisons within our District Reference Group,” Da Silva wrote. “Once that work was completed, the team calibrated across all schools, followed by the creation of a schedule for all essentials.
“The recommended cut in art education was made after this work, not before. Meaning, once the team determined what is best for children across all programs and academics, then recommendations for budget cuts were made. Consistency across all of our six elementary schools was an intentional outcome in this process.”