A $102-million public school budget that would create a new director of safety position and raise education spending more than $4 million — a 4.11 percent increase — has been proposed by interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote.

“People are the most important,” Dr. Paddyfote said, unveiling her 2020-21 budget request to the Board of Education and a crowd of about 20 onlookers Monday night, Jan. 13. “... It’s really telling, 80 percent of the budget would be salaries and benefits.”

Salaries make up 60 percent of the budget, and employee benefits make up another 20 percent.

“That’s what we’d expect, especially in a high-performing district,” she said.

Dr. Paddyfote put forward a $102,229,370 overall school budget request, up $4,035,610 from this year's $98,193,760 budget, for the proposed 4.11 percent increase.

The bulk of the $4 million proposed spending increase is made up of larger appropriations for salaries and benefits — with $1,768,575 more for salaries making up 44 percent of the increase, and $889,780 more for benefits making up 22 percent.

Enrollment is projected to decline by 68 students.

Current 2019-20 kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment in the Ridgefield Public Schools is 4,627, and that’s projected to decline to 4,559 next year, in 2020-21, according to an enrollment study presented by the consulting firm Milone and MacBroom on Nov. 12.

The projected enrollment decline falls mostly in the high school, down 46 students, and middle school, down 34 students. The elementary school population is actually projected to increase by 12 students.

With that breakdown, Dr. Paddyfote’s budget did not translate the enrollment decline into staff reductions.

“We are not cutting any positions,” Dr. Paddyfote told the board.

Two new positions

Her budget proposal calls for two added positions: an $85,000 a year director of security, who would assume responsibilities for the safety of students and staff; and an additional social worker at Ridgefield High School, budgeted at $60,000.

Supporting the director of security proposal, Dr. Paddyfote said that with over one million square feet of school space to be maintained as a “safe school environment” she felt the new position was justified “instead of having this as an add-on responsibility across two central office administrators.”

The projected 2020-21 school staff of just over 734 positions breaks down as: 451 teachers; 28 administrators; 33 secretaries; 129 paraprofessional educators; 53 custodians; 24 nurses, therapists and similar positions; 10 on the technology staff; six operational managers.

Review, amendment

The process the proposed school budget will go through includes review, possible amendment and then approval by the Board of Education, which would pass it on to the Board of Finance, for its review and possible amendment, before sending a final proposed school budget — along with a budget for town departments and a new tax rate — to town voters at the budget referendum in May.

The 4.11 percent increase Dr. Paddyfote is proposing is the largest since 2016-17, when a $4,296,000 or 4.99 percent increase was approved by voters. Since then the final approved school budget increases have been: 2.50 percent in 2017-18, 2.55 percent in 2018-19, and a 3.36 percent increase for the current 2019-20 fiscal year.

Initiatives, programs

“Building upon the current year’s initiatives,” Dr. Paddyfote said in a transmittal letter to the Board of Education, “this budget continues to support three major areas: (1) continued development of curricula and professional development; (2) continued emphasis on mental health and wellness services; and (3) support of vigorous graduation requirements.”

Dr. Paddyfote also noted that her budget includes continuing support for program development.

“This budget provides adequate funding for staff and materials that have been added over time to address a myriad of ‘new’ initiatives in spite of declining enrollment,” her letter says. “These new initiatives include, but are not limited to: Makerspace learning; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) experiences for students; social emotional learning opportunities; and five new courses at Ridgefield High School.”

Chair upbeat

Board of Education Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis was upbeat about the superintendent’s proposed budget.

“We know that Dr. Paddyfote and her leadership team, including the building leaders and central office staff, have been working hard to develop this budget since shortly after the start of school,” Stamatis told The Press.

“The superintendent's proposed budget is their best effort at a financial plan for the school district that addresses student needs and fulfills our mission while understanding the fiscal situation in Ridgefield. Over the next month, the board will hear presentations from each of the different groups to understand the context of the request, and the student needs and contractual commitments behind each of the numbers.”

Stamatis thought the board would look closely at the request to add two new staff members, without reducing any other positions.

“The reality is that 80 percent of our budget is contractual staff salaries and benefits. This budget maintains the current level of staffing while adding a security director and social worker at the high school,” she said.

“We'll hear more about the rationale for these additional positions during the presentations, but I know that the board, and I believe the community, prioritizes the safety and security of our students and staff in our buildings.”

Already cut

In her presentation, Dr. Paddyfote outlined over $1,878,000 worth of “requests not funded” — proposals that had risen from staff and building administrators in the budget-building process, but had already been taken out of the proposal. The cut requests included 23.4 staff positions, with the largest proposals: $580,200 for six “math coaches” in the elementary schools; $293,100 for three elementary science coaches; and $293,100 for three for literary specialists serving kindergarten through second grades.

The athletics department had the most items on the list of requests already cut, including: $43,329 for a strength and conditioning trainer; $11,790 for two rugby coaches (a head and an assistant); $4,670 for another assistant football coach; $4,159 for an assistant dance coach.

Stamatis said these requests that had been cut might be a focus of the board’s attention.

“We saw in the presentation a long list of requests from district leaders that are not included in this budget,” Stamatis said, “and I anticipate that the board will also want to understand the need behind those requests, why they were not included, and what the implications (both short term and long term) of not including them could be.”

Presentations, hearings

A series of meetings on the school budget to follow Dr. Paddyfote’s budget request presentation were all scheduled to start at 7 in the town hall annex:

 Tuesday, Jan. 21, high school and athletics budgets;

 Monday, Jan. 27: curriculum, facilities and general services budgets;

 Wednesday, Jan. 29. special education, pupil services, technology.

The school board has two public hearings scheduled on its budget: Saturday morning, Feb. 1, at 10 a.m. in Scotts Ridge Middle School; and Monday night, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. in the Board of Education meeting room at the Town Hall Annex.

At the end of her presentation, the interim superintendent cast approval of her proposed budget as a way for the board to support the incoming Superintendent Susie Da Silva, who was hired Jan. 2 and is expected to leave her position as an assistant superintendent in Darien and take over the Ridgefield schools in April.

“I really hope you approve a budget that is very close, if not the actual number,” Dr. Paddyfote told the school board. “That would really help the new superintendent.”