Ridgefield school board approves nearly $103.4 million budget

RIDGEFIELD — The school board unanimously approved the nearly $103.4 million budget, which is $3.45 million, or 3.45 percent more than the current year.

The approved budget does add one more art teacher than the superintendent initially proposed, though that addition doesn’t effect the bottom line. Instead, the board cut from COVID related items to cover the cost.

“The board of education and community provided feedback on the superintendent’s proposed budget, all of which is essential and a meaningful part of the budget process,” Superintendent Susie Da Silva said at this week’s meeting. “More specifically, we heard questions and concerns related to the elementary art program.”

As a result, the administration went over the change in staffing for the elementary school art program.

Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Elizabeth Hannaway provided the presentation on what the schedules of the art teachers would look like with the added teacher, mirroring what an art teachers schedule day would be. The teachers would generally have 28 to 29 sections of teaching per six-day cycle including some travel.

If more students enroll, Hannaway said Veterans Park Elementary School would be set, but other schools would either have a teacher assigned to the school or one from another district.

Da Silva said the administration was tasked with adding the teacher back into the budget without raising the increase past 3.45 percent.

This meant, staff needed to cut $100,000 from other areas of the budget to cover the salary and benefits.

She proposed, and the board approved, taking out $20,000 for COVID personal protective equipment, lowering the assumed contribution for the town pension and reducing the assumed transportation fuel budget. They also cut the sub line by $60,000. The district had added $20,000 at each level for COVID subs.

Da Silva went on to say that the administration believes they’re in need of systematic support across curricular areas, many of which have been highlighted recently. What they know about social-emotional academic learning will have significant impact for years to come and they also shouldn’t underestimate the work curriculum leaders do since work directly affects teachers and indirectly affects students.

“There’s a significant amount of work that needs to happen and we need to be prepared for next year,” Da Silva said.

Board member Tina Malhotra said she understands and agrees with what Hannaway presented and what Da Silva said in order to be fiscally conservative but then added that there seems to be a feeling among the elementary parents that the arts are being targeted.

“I think we need to be very transparent with our parents, so I think going forward we should be talking to the elementary parents making them understand that there’s no reduction per say,” she said. “I think the administration needs to address the parent concern as why parents think this is a cut because I think that’s the missing piece here.”