Town Times Requester



School budget proposes 1.74 percent increase

In her first budget proposal to the Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Veronesi, who started in January, proposed a budget for the 2014-2015 school year with a net increase of 1.74 percent.

The proposed budget for 2014-2015 totals $35,178,402 and was the result of what Veronesi characterized as “many, many challenging conversations.” BOE chair Kerrie Flanagan echoed that sentiment, saying the budget construction was “thoughtful and hard-fought” and “a painful process.”

According to the presentation conducted by Veronesi and Business Manager Ron Melnik, the proposed staffing in district 13 drops by a net total of 13.2 positions.

Part of that reduction comes from eliminating 4.5 teaching positions plus an additional 1 special education teacher, as well as a 0.6 librarian position. The rest of the staffing reduction comes from non-certified staff, including 4 instructional assistants, 2 ABA positions, and 1.5 maintenance positions.

Referring to the reductions, Veronesi said, “When I talk to you about challenging discussions, this is where they were.”

Although the positions were not discussed specifically, according to documents in the presentation those teacher loses occur at Brewster (a net loss of 1 teacher), Korn (1 teacher), in the contemporary program at Memorial (a net loss of 1 teacher), and at Coginchaug Regional High School (1.5 positions total from Math, Science, and Languages).

“What the [budget] team was charged with was looking across the board at what kind of cuts could be made while still maintaining the educational integrity of the programs that we have here,” said Veronesi, who cited enrollment decline for the reductions.

Those staffing proposals are already likely to change by the next BOE meeting. The budget process began earlier than in the past. For planning purposes, the kindergarten enrollment of 89 students from the current year was used. Actual enrollment for 2014-2015 turned out to be 104 students, or 15 more than anticipated. One of the proposed reductions is a kindergarten teacher.

“We don’t have enough kindergarten classes in this budget,” said Flanagan after the presentation, “so we’re going to have to take a look at what to do about that.”

The proposed budget includes several additions, including a k-4 computer teacher, additional AP courses at CRHS, and PSAT support.

The largest increase in the proposed expenditures, both by dollar amount and percentage change, continues to be the benefits line, driven by an increase in health insurance costs. The benefits cost of $7,289,215 for 2014-2015 is over a half a million dollars more than the 2013-2014 budgeted cost of $6,739,160, which is almost $700,000 higher than the 2012-2013 actual cost of $6,045,540.

“There’s a lot of pressure on that line,” said Melnik.

The salary line, the largest line by in the budget, has a 0.95 percent increase.

The teacher’s contract, which makes up part of that line, was settled. The sides were not able to come to an agreement in mediation. The contract was settled after arbitration was scheduled but not started.

The new contract smooths out the seniority step increases, sets a maximum for tuition reimbursement, and sets the stipends for leading clubs and sports at a dollar figure instead of a salary percentage. The salary increases were set at 2.51 percent, 3.25 percent, and 3.10 percent for three years, which Flanagan characterized as comparable to the state average. The BOE could not vote to accept or reject the contract because it was reached after arbitration was scheduled and is considered an arbitration award.

“The way we proceed with our budget process, we’re going to define a new normal,” said Veronesi at the conclusion of the presentation. “We’re not just talking about the fact that things in school have changed, the community and the society and the economy in which our school is supported has changed dramatically.”

Starting on Feb. 26 at 7:30 pm at Strong Middle School, the BOE will meet weekly on Wednesdays at 7:30 pm at Strong until March 26.

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