Reductions in school staff and operations recommended

Ridgefield Town Hall.

Ridgefield Town Hall.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

The new math coaches and director of security position may fall to the budget ax, but adding another social worker at Ridgefield High School is something Superintendent of Schools Susie Da Silva would like to keep in her budget plans.

Da Silva presented the Board of Education with a list of potential cuts from the proposed 2020-21 budget at a virtual meeting May 26. The Board of Education is expected to vote on the school budget — deciding what gets cut and what remains — at its virtual meeting June 8.

New budget requests for three math coaches and a director of security would be removed, and several positions would be eliminated or reduced, under Da Silva’s recommendations. These include a transition coordinator; the equivalent of two teaching positions at Ridgefield High; three EL (English Learner) teachers in special areas; and one maintenance mechanic.

“It depends, as we may have retirements and resignations,” said Da Silva, when asked how many current staff members could lose their jobs. “It is hard to say for sure, and they are not all part of the same bargaining unit.”

Da Silva recommended keeping five items that were listed as either new budget requests to be removed or positions to be eliminated or reduced — including the new RHS social worker and five part-time EL tutors.

“I’m recommending these five items to stay within the budget,” Da Silva said. “We will be able to recommend $218,470 less than is identified on this list.”

The cutting is needed because the finance board approved a 1.75 percent spending increase for the school system — not the 3.96 percent the school board requested. So, some things have to come out.

Da Silva noted that the proposals she presented at last week’s board of education meeting would bring the budget down to a 1.5% increase, less than the final 1.75% hike that the finance board approved — leaving room for the school board to pick and choose among her recommendations. “This entire slide is $251,750,” Da Silva said, when recommending the five items she would like to keep in the new budget.

BC budget

Earlier this year, the board of education approved a $102-million budget that would create several new positions and increase education spending more than $4 million for the 2020-21 school year.

That was BC (before coronavirus).

With the pandemic leading to widespread unemployment and sluggish home sales, Ridgefield finds itself in the same position as many towns and cities across the country: looking to cut costs in anticipation of major declines in revenue.

Some of the trimming is coming from the school budget.

At a meeting last month, the town’s Board of Finance approved a $99,912,000 school budget for 2020-21 — a 1.75% rise in school spending from the current school year, but more than 2% less than the 3.96% increase that the school board had earlier approved.

Da Silva, who took over as superintendent April 1, outlined proposed cost-saving measures to the 2020-21 school budget during the Board of Education’s virtual meeting. They included straight-forward reductions, such as employee benefits (insurance, etc.), utilities (fuel and electric), and one full-time position at Farmingville Elementary School, which she described as an “organic reduction” due to class size.

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 told the Board of Education that with the cuts she’s proposed — but keeping the five items she’d recommended keeping — a little more than $33,000 still needed to be sliced. But $18,000 of that could be saved by cutting phone costs.

In an email to The Press on Tuesday, she said the remaining shortage has been accounted for through additional savings in benefits.

Pandemic changes

Executive orders from Governor Ned Lamont gave the selectmen and finance board budget-making authority normally wielded by voters at the Annual Town Meeting and the budget referendum. The finance board had the final say on the 2020-21 school budget. But even in regular years, the finance board determines the size of the school budget that voters judge in the referendum — and it’s usually something less than the Board of Education’s request.

The 1.75% hike was more than the 1.5% increase that the Board of Selectmen had called for in its non-binding recommendation to the finance board. But it’s also roughly $2,170,000 less than than the 3.96% increase that the education board was seeking.

Both Da Silva and the Board of Education were hoping that the finance board would approve a 2.96% increase for the 2020-21 school budget. That would have prevented the schools from adding new positions but allowed them to maintain current operations with contracted salary and other non-discretionary cost increases.

“Every 1% is about $1 million — that’s just a way to look at how significant the cuts could be,” Da Silva told The Press in a telephone interview May 22.