School budget plan comes in at 2.39% hike

School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser outlined a budget plan for 2013-14 that would see costs got up 2.39% over the current year, but school officials said the hike would have been steeper if they didn’t find money within the budget to reallocate.

With salaries increasing about $865,000 and benefits going up $341,000, plus increases of $57,000 in facility costs, and more, school officials said they would have been hard pressed to come in with what they see as a reasonable budget request. That is especially true when adding in another $1.3 million in costs associated with new school standards and improved safety measures, some of which have been spurred by the tragic shootings in Newtown.

“What we’re asking for may be more than what some will have expected,” Feser said during a press conference Monday afternoon.

All together, new and additional costs for 2013-14 amount to just over $2 million. But Feser said administrators identified $1.3 million in savings that will be realized through staff reductions, limited supply purchases and other means.

Some savings will come due to declining enrollment. Feser and Operations Director James Richetelli Jr. said the current enrollment is 6,659 and is expected to go down to 6,612, and the decline is expected to continue.

Therefore, administrators said they plan to cut 16 positions next school year, for a savings of $738,000. Those positions include six regular education and four special education teachers, five paraprofessionals, and a .5 position for a teacher for the deaf.

Feser said last year staff reductions were handled largely through attrition and she hopes next budget year will be similar.

But she did not rule out layoffs, and noted that if there are layoffs, they would made according to seniority.

Another $80,000 will be saved by reducing summer school staffing, and $36,000 will come from a matching employee benefits account and education reimbursements. Richetelli said he expects the draws on those accounts will be less next school year anyway.

Feser suggests cutting $171,000 from contracted services and $49,000 from utilities and repair. Finally, she decided to cut $254,000 from the supply account, pointing out that less money goes to supplies because more has been going toward technology.

Big new expenses for 2013-14 come in three areas: Common core standards, which are steering education toward today’s technology driven world and requiring more computers, software and training for teachers.

The budget plan calls for buying Think Pads for the Academy and iPads for high school math classrooms, and adding a computer lab at Harborside Middle School, among other initiatives.

Public Act 10-111, which mandates teacher and administrator evaluations, is the second area that is driving costs. That mandate means that teachers once evaluated once every three years have to be observed three times every year.

Administrators must be evaluated, too, and all that monitoring means there must be people in place to do it.

To free up administrators to get into the classrooms and work with teachers, Feser proposed adding four school assistant/teacher leader positions at four elementary schools: Kennedy, Mathewson, Meadowside and Pumpkin Delight.

“The position proposed is a teaching position, that is, a teacher would be released from teaching full time to provide support to the principal in a myriad of managerial areas, while assisting with some instructional leadership, e.g., the Student Assistance Team, grade level meetings and more,” Feser wrote in her proposal.

To keep principals and assistant principals from having to spend a large part of their day overseeing the cafeteria during lunch, she is proposing hiring nine cafeteria aids, three for each of the middle schools.

“By placing aides in the cafeteria, administrators would be able to spend much greater time on what should be their primary responsibility, namely teaching and learning,” she said.

The budget plan also calls for adding a half behaviorist position, bringing the total number of behaviorists in the school system to three.

Feser also wants to provide summer school transportation for elementary students, many of whom didn’t go to special summer school offerings last year because they didn’t have a ride.

She also proposes making lacrosse a city-sponsored sport. Milford Youth Lacrosse paid the expenses for the first two years, resulting in boys’ programs at both high schools. Under the new plan, there will be boys’ varsity and junior varsity lacrosse teams at both high schools next year, and a girls’ junior varsity. Administrators hope to add girls’ varsity to the offerings the following year.

The third big expense area lies in improving operations, and calls for $87,000 to enhance and upgrade the security systems in place at all the school buildings.

“The tragic incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School has rightfully raised concerns around school safety,” Feser said.

She plans to add security cameras, install more swipe card entry pads, and hire people to greet visitors at each of the elementary schools. Greeters would add another $131,000 to expenses.

“This full-time person would admit visitors into the building, sign them in, and assist them in their purpose for coming into the school,” she said.

The Board of Education received the budget proposal Monday and will review it this week and next before voting on a dollar figure. The board has the option of changing Feser’s dollar request or leaving it as is.

From there the plan will go to the Board of Finance for review and finally to the Board of Aldermen some time in May.