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Friday, April 20 News

Title proposes school budget revisions to comply with $1.3M in cuts

Superintendent of Schools David G. Title on Tuesday night identified a total of $1.3 million in recommended cuts to the 2014-15 budget adopted earlier this year by the Board of Education in order to comply with reductions imposed by other town officials, culminating with a $500,000 cut by the Representative Town Meeting earlier this week.

The school board backed a $157 million budget proposal on Jan. 30, but the Boards of Selectmen and Finance subsequently backed First Selectman Michael Tetreau's recommended $800,000 cut and, after a marathon meeting the ended early Tuesday, the RTM approved a spending package with an additional $500,000 reduction.

"This is always the least fun part of the budget process," Title said to school board members in introducing his recommended cuts. "We did everything we could to avoid touching any programs."

"My hope is you will see this as a minimal impact," the superintendent added. "At the end of the day, my job is to take the budget handed to us and use it in the most cost-effective way."

The school board is scheduled to vote May 20 on how to reduce its budget by $1.3 million. Title said if the board rejects some of his recommended cuts he likely would look to cut more money from the district's technology capital account.

The education budget, as approved by the RTM at $155.7 million, rises $4.5 million, or 3 percent, over current spending of $151.2 million.

Title attributed some of the adjustments to "new and better information" than the school district had when the Board of Education voted to approve its budget. That included $192,000 in savings from updated pension costs, $108,000 saved by three additional retirees (the school district had budgeted for 16 retirees but now has 19, and new hires cost less than longtime employees), $183,402 in electricity and water accounts, and $10,435 in heating costs at North Stratfield School by installation of new boilers at the school.

Title's other recommended cuts include:

- $128,843 from a 5 percent cut to supplies and materials accounts at each school. "When you take 5 percent across the schools, it adds up to real money," Title said. He said principals have discretion on what to cut from those accounts, adding, "We're not going to run out of pencils."

- $124,000 by reducing high school teaching staff in 2014-15 by 1.4 positions. "We can staff our high schools next year with 1.4 teachers less than we budgeted based on actual courses and actual enrollment," Title said.

- A total of $100,000 from seven maintenance accounts that include painting at $20,000, custodial supplies at $20,000 and $15,000 each from fire alarm testing and playground safety.

- $75,000 by funding the purchase of Algebra II textbooks in the 2015-16 budget instead of next fiscal year's budget. "We still anticipate we will have a new Algebra II textbook," Title said. "We're simply moving the funding from [20]14-15 to [20]15-16."

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- $65,971 from eliminating a full-time grounds maintenance position and contracting out that work. Title said the board wouldn't have to fund the replacement of equipment if that job were contracted out.

- $56,000 by reinstituting a fee charged to students who participate in sports that need to rent facilities, such as hockey, swimming and bowling. The school board had taken that fee out of Title's proposed budget back in January. "I added back in high school rental charges in trying to preserve things. This doesn't cut a sport. It doesn't impact them," Title said.

- $53,975 from eliminating a part-time adult education coordinator and transferring that job to Margaret Boice, director of secondary education for the school district. "She agreed to do this for the good of the cause," Title said.

- $42,521 from eliminating transportation of pre-kindergarten, full-tuition students at Burr Elementary School and Dwight School. Title said one school bus wouldn't be needed if that suggestion were approved by the school board.

- $34,000 by eliminating a general music class for fifth-graders that the school board had voted in January to add to Title's recommended budget. "We're not cutting from a program. We're removing something the board put in. That's a half a position," Title said.

- $30,000 from reducing by 50 the number of laptop replacements for World Language classes at the high schools.

- $21,239 by funding a part-time math and science teacher at McKinley School through a Title 1 grant.

- $20,000 from reallocating custodial staff to avoid overtime.

- $20,000 by using a state model for a school climate survey instead of hiring a vendor for that work.

- $20,000 in postage by increasing notifications that are sent via e-mail.

- $8,107 by reducing a new psychologist position at the Early Childhood Center from 0.3 full-time equivalent to 0.2 full-time equivalent.

- $8,107 by reducing a new social worker in the school district from 0.6 full-time equivalent to .5 full-time equivalent.

- $2,400 by having Board of Education members pay their own expenses to attend workshops.

School board member John Convertito said the fee for high school athletes ought to cover all sports. While the board paid rental fees for some sports, Convertito said it also paid for maintenance of fields for sports that don't rent facilities. He asked Title to develop a spreadsheet that identifies the fee-per-athlete if it covered all sports.

Title said the fee would be nominal if it covered all athletes and the goal was to raise $56,000.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Jennifer Hoffman of Whitewood Drive said she was disappointed that the fifth-grade general music class was "back on the cut list." She said that class was highlighted at other meetings as something the district was proud of.

Trudi Durrell of Woodcrest Road thanked Title, school board Chairman Philip Dwyer and board members who attended the marathon 9-hour RTM budget session that lasted until the wee hours Tuesday morning. Durrell said Title had presented, for the most part, "low-impact revisions" to accommodate the budget cuts.

"I'm trying to be positive here," she said.

Dwyer said he appreciated parents who spoke at town meetings in support of education and library and health services.