Last-minute grant softens blow of school board's $300,000 budget reduction

A last-minute grant of at least $85,000 allowed the Board of Education to leave intact a preschool program that might have been reduced due to a $300,000 cut to the board’s budget request for 2014-15.

The school board met Tuesday night to approve cost reductions that School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser presented in response to a budget adjustment by the Board of Aldermen.

Feser said she learned about a grant coming to the school district shortly before the aldermen voted last week to cut $300,000 from the school board’s requested 2014-15 budget.

“We were worried we’d have to recommend eliminating one of the preschool teachers that was added into the budget,” Feser said. “However, we were able to hold onto this when literally, late in the afternoon, we were notified we will get a grant.”

Details of the grant cannot be released until next week, she said, because it hasn’t been officially announced yet.

The money will be used to pay for four paraprofessionals in an expanded preschool program, leaving money for the preschool teacher.

The school board had voted earlier in the budget process to expand the existing preschool program by adding two new classrooms. School Board Chairman Susan Glennon said that decision was based on research that shows that “quality early education pays off in later years with increased student achievement and less need for intervention.”

Other budgeted items were eliminated, however, and those include $20,000 for teacher development and $20,000 for curriculum work, two areas that administrators and board members said were difficult to cut.

“This is all work being done to revise the curriculum around the Common Core,” Feser said about the curriculum reduction.

Board member George Gensure said, “Where it hits home is professional development, which is one of the important steps in achieving goals. I’m disappointed to say the least that we have to cut these programs.”

Other reductions

The board had hoped to hire one additional strings teacher next school year but cut that to half a position to save $32,500. There also will be a reduction of half a teaching position at the high school level to save $32,500. The teaching area affected hasn’t been determined yet.

The district will save another $27,500 by not replacing a kitchen floor at John F. Kennedy School or relocating the security area at Foran High School.

Chief Operations Officer James Richetelli Jr. said there was a plan to move the security guard station to the outer part of the school entryway, and the attendance taker inside. But he said that can wait.

The project was being undertaken based on a draft school safety infrastructure report, which is part of the state’s attempt to establish standards for school building security in the present and future, Richetelli said.

Another $22,000 will be saved by not putting in new stairs at Kennedy School and postponing installation of outside lighting at West Shore Middle School.

The board also voted to cut $20,000 in technology equipment and $18,500 for new preschool equipment. But some of that last-minute grant can help buy preschool equipment, Feser said.

The district also will save about $25,000 because of a change in organization in the technology department. Instead of paying $85,000 for a technology director, the district took three key  department employees and has been paying them $20,000 stipends to share the duties of the director. Since the arrangement has worked out well, Feser said, that $20,000 will become part of the three salaries, and the district will not hire a new director.

Board member Laura Fucci asked how the changes will affect student achievement, and officials said they targeted areas that would have the least impact on students.

“It’s tough to measure,” said Assistant Supt. Michael Cummings. “There’s work that will be undone. But we’re going to protect the majority of students in core courses. It certainly will impact courses, but our job has always been to protect students as much as possible.”

School officials had said they were surprised last week at the $300,000 budget reduction by the Board of Aldermen.

The school board had requested $89.51 million for next school year, which represented a .75% increase: School officials said it was the lowest they could remember.