School cut list includes art teachers and tech spending

Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, Conn. Monday, Oct. 20, 2014.

Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, Conn. Monday, Oct. 20, 2014.

Tyler Sizemore / Tyler Sizemore

Art teachers, technology purchases, and a special bus run for kindergartners were among $230,000 in budget reductions recommended by Schools Superintendent William Collins on Monday, April 8.

Needing cuts to meet the finance board’s reduction to a $98-million 2019-20, budget request school board members discussed Collins’ recommendations — added some ideas — and agreed decide April 22.

“This was a collective effort,” Collins said of the cut list. “This was about a search to keep this away from the classroom.”

PTA and teachers union speakers had urged keeping cuts “as far away from the classroom as possible.”

“Everything affects the classroom,” said board member Frances Walton. “When we get cut, it’s going to affect the classroom one way or the other.”

Collins’ proposed cuts were:

$109,000 by reducing art teachers as previously proposed by the administration, and reversed by the board after community objections;

$50,000 through “buy-ahead” initiatives — purchasing supplies needed next year from this year’s budget;

$36,000 from next year’s technology budget, through either using this year’s money, or “deferrals” — postponing purchases;

$13,510 saved by delaying the start date for the STEM supervisor a month, and paying the $162,120 salary only 11 months;

$16,000 by reducing “per school’ discretionary spending — again, with some purchases made this year;

$5,490 by eliminating a midday bus run taking kindergartners home early the first two weeks of school, adopted years back as a transition to full-day kindergarten.

Aware reducing art teachers could be controversial, Collins offered an alternative.

“To substitute for that, the only area we had is to take $109,000 from technology,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Craig Creller said reducing art teachers’ FTEs — “full time equivalents,” or hours — wouldn’t hurt students.

“We can provide more with less,” he said. “...The reduction will be to FTEs not to the amount of art the students get.”

Some board members offered ideas.

Carina Borgia-Drake suggested cutting outside consultants and having professional development — teacher training — workshops done by administrators on staff.

“The in-house humanities and STEM supervisors would take on some of the professional development,” Borgia-Drake said. “...Our in-house people have large six-figure salaries.”

“We haven’t talked about health insurance,” Walton said.

Health insurance is the biggest chunk of a $19-million employee benefits line, and costs can sometimes be negotiated.

“It’s such a big number. It can have such an impact,” Walton said.

“Our experience is it tends to come down,” agreed Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis. “...But there is a risk.”