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School board backs $157M budget with 3.7% increase

Photo by Andrew Brophy

A full house was on hand as the Board of Education adopted a $157 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, a spending package that moves on for action by other town boards.

The Board of Education late Thursday adopted a $157 million budget for 2014-15, a spending proposal $112,400 higher than Superintendent of Schools David G. Title's recommended budget of $156.9 million.

The adopted budget, approved on a 7-1 vote with one abstention, stands at 3.86 percent more than the current budget of $151.2 million and, after review by First Selectman Michael Tetreau, will be incorporated into his overall town spending proposal for the new fiscal year. The overall proposed town budget will then face votes by the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting before the new budget takes effect July 1.

The $112,400 in funding added to Title's recommendation reflects an additional $34,000 by the board to reinstitute a second fifth-grade general music class and $2,400 for school board members to attend Connecticut Association of Boards of Education conferences. The board eliminated $56,000 in projected revenue from a fee charged to sports teams that rent school facilities -- such as swimming, hockey, skiing and bowling -- and $20,000 in projected revenue from PTAs that use school buildings on weekends when a custodian needs to be hired.

"I think this is an extremely responsible budget," school board member Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly said before the vote.

Board member John Llewellyn cast the lone vote against the proposal, AND Eileen Liu McCormack abstained from voting because she believed there had not been enough time to analyze it.

Public comment on the overall proposed budget was dominated by Llewellyn's proposal to restructure curriculum leader positions, which hours earlier, he had withdrawn from consideration Thursday night.

Dozens of teachers and principals came to the microphone in the Education Center on Kings Highway East to support the existing structure, saying Mike Rafferty, a language arts curriculum leader for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, and Walter Wakeman, a math/science curriculum leader for pre-K through fifth grade, were valuable in their current roles and already frequently visit the schools. They said the curriculum leaders are needed more now because of Common Core guidelines and new methods of evaluating student performance. They also help teachers be better instructors, speakers said.

The school district, according to its website, has a total of four curriculum leaders at the middle school and high school levels in charge of English/language arts, math, science and social studies, but Rafferty and Wakeman were the ones mentioned Thursday night.

Llewellyn said he thought the school district could save "a substantial amount of money by redeploying them from central office back to the schools and have them teach part-time." Llewellyn estimated savings of $200,000 in the first year and $500,000 in the third year (through not replacing retiring teachers) and said he thought moving curriculum leaders to the schools would improve equity among the schools and "help level out the disparate application of curriculum."

But Llewellyn said two days wasn't enough time to evaluate how that could be done. "I'm going to temporarily table this, but I'm not going to remove it," he said.

Philip Dwyer, the board's chairman, said views differed on whether Llewellyn's proposal would save money and he thanked Llewellyn for wanting to work with Title.

Llewellyn wasn't the only board member to withdraw a motion relating to the budget Thursday night.

Liu-McCormack withdrew her proposal to not offer busing to families who pay full tuition for pre-kindergarten programs at Burr Elementary School and Dwight School, which had a projected savings of $42,000. Liu-McCormack said her proposal also needs more evaluation and "shouldn't be rushed." "I'm hoping this will come back to the board at a future date for further discussion," she said.

And John Convertito withdrew his motion to add $52,000 for a paraprofessional to support librarians at Fairfield Warde and Fairfield Ludlowe high schools. Convertito said he "didn't want to get into micro-managing." Read Full Article 

Marc Patten's proposal to save $75,029 by eliminating World Language instruction in fourth and fifth grades and increasing instructional time in that program in sixth grade was postponed for further discussion in May. In sixth grade, Patten proposed instruction time in World Languages be doubled. He said his motion would give one grade "a full World Languages program" and that he hoped the schools could incrementally add instruction in the other grades.

But Convertito said, "My fear with the motion is if we eliminate fourth and fifth ... once something is eliminated in this district, it is extremely difficult to get it back."

School board members and audience members said it was important for students to begin learning another language as early as possible, and Maxon-Kennelly and Convertito said they want the district's central office to have more time to evaluate how the World Languages program might be changed.

"We're giving the administration a specific formula," Convertito said of Patten's proposal, "not how the administration and staff may or may not think is the most efficient way."

Title said he did not favor funding a full World Language program in sixth grade by taking it out of the fourth and fifth grades.

The school board defeated motions to:

- Add $353,553 to restore the World Language program in grades four, five and six to instructional levels in place in the 2010-11 fiscal year. Liu-McCormack, who made the motion, and Convertito said postponing discussion until May would essentially kill the motion since the school board couldn't add money to the 2014-15 budget in May.

"Our option to increase exists now. We have an option to decrease in May," Liu-McCormack said.

Dawn Llewellyn, the wife of member John Llewellyn who was in the audience, said she didn't favor postponing action on this motion. "I support it," she said. "If other districts around us -- Weston, Westport, Darien, New Canaan -- if they can do it in elementary school, why can't we?"

Title said the board next year would see a full revised curriculum for languages, with implementation in the fall of 2015, and Maxon-Kennelly said she didn't think the board should add $353,553 for World Languages without a plan and without hearing from teachers and principals.

"There will be a big bulls-eye on the number until we know how we're going to do this," Convertito said.

Title said an option that the board had was to make it part of the curriculum review next year. "There are lots of different delivery models for World Languages," he said. "We agree the program can be strengthened."

- Reduce parking fees at the high schools by $20,000 so the fees would cover only the cost of monitoring the parking lots and weren't used to cover shortfalls in the operating budget.

Convertito said he was "fundamentally opposed to using students as a revenue source," but Title said the school district provides transportation for high school students and that parking at the high schools is "a privilege, not a right."

- Add $9,500 to increase testing for gifted and talented students in middle school.

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