Superintendent asks for 3.43% budget increase

Interim Superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote presented a $98,261,254 budget for the 2019-20 school year — a 3.43% increase — to the Board of Education Monday, Jan. 14.

The figure is less than the 5.2% increase Paddyfote suggested at the town’s annual tri-board meeting on Dec. 18.

Paddyfote explained Monday night that the lower increase was created by the reduction of two additional staff members at East Ridge Middle School, which has seen declining enrollment over the last three years.

Paddyfote had originally planned for a four-teacher reduction at East Ridge. Her new budget proposal calls for a reduction of those four teachers, as well as an assistant principal position and a full-time school secretary.

“The assistant principal is actually a ten-month position, and the secretary is a ten-month position,” said Paddyfote.

There were also additional proposed staffing reductions at the elementary level — art teachers and office paraprofessionals, bringing the total reduction in staff to 10.13 “full-time equivalent” positions across the district.  

The 2019-20 budget would also eliminate one district administrator position — the coordinator of psychologists, who works at the Ridgefield Public Schools offices at 66 Prospect Street.

In total, the proposed staffing cuts are projected to save the district $672,608 in salary alone.

“It’s $672,000 but what you don’t see is the reduction in employee benefits,” Paddyfote said.

New staff

The budget also asks for new staff.

Three new school psychologists would be added to the elementary schools, costing $220,000 in salaries. The schools would also hire two board-certified behavioral analysts for the central office, costing $143,800 in salaries.

In total, those five positions would cost the district $363,800 — the cost of which would be offset by reductions in spending on professional education services, according to Paddyfote.

The 2019-20 proposed budget would also have the district hire a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) supervisor for the central office, which would cost $162,506.

The budget proposal also calls for part-time positions to be hired at Farmingville Elementary School, Ridgefield High School, and Scotts Ridge Middle School. Those three positions would cost $29,447.

Budget drivers

The increase is mostly being driven by salaries and benefits, which together make up about 68% of the $3,261,254 budget increase Paddyfote proposed.

Salaries for both certified staff ($48.3 million) and non-certified staff ($10.8 million), along with employee benefits ($19.6 million) make up about 80% of the total $98.2-million budget.

The remaining 20% of the budget proposal is taken up by transportation costs ($5.7 million), special education costs and tuition for outplaced students ($2.8 million), energy ($2.4 million), repairs and maintenance ($2.1 million), and supplies and materials ($1.5 million). Also included in the 20% is $5 million in “all other expenses,” which Paddyfote said includes items like pensions, liability, and workers comp.  

One area of risk is the cost of health insurance, which the budget predicts will rise by 7%.

“We made that assumption of 7%, I worry a little bit about that,” Paddyfote said.

Paddyfote has previously said the district health insurance could go up as much as 20%.

She noted that while Ridgefield ranks somewhere in the middle of District Reference Group A, the socio-economic grouping applied by the state, it spends the least per-student compared with the eight other towns in the DRG.

Ridgefield spent $17,961 per pupil during 2016-17 school year, Paddyfote told the board, compared to the $21,734 Redding spent per pupil. Weston ($20,890), Westport ($20,387), New Canaan ($20,162), Darien ($20,157), and Wilton ($19,865) all spent more per pupil than Ridgefield in 2016-17.

“I just don’t know how you can sustain that,” said Paddyfote, regarding Ridgefield’s performance compared to how much it spends.

“If you want to move forward and you want to make gains,” she added, “you’re getting to that tipping point where if you don’t leverage the funds in the right way… you’re not going to get the results.”