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By Kim Becker
Declaring a budget decrease of 1 percent for FY 2017 “disappointing”, superintendent Dr. Alan Addley, expressed concern to the Boards of Finance and Education that “maintaining the status quo is going backward.” He stated he had promised families that the school reconfiguration would not harm services or programs. He now feels that the 1 percent decrease “doesn’t keep the quality of the system.” Addley’s original budget called for a .5 percent increase (approximately $140,000) and the BOE sent a budget with a zero percent increase to the BOF. The budget decrease was a blow to Addley, who believed that closing a school would give the district some money for program investment in areas such as STEAM, the arts, and elementary-level social studies books.
Members of the BOF held fast to a less than 2 percent tax increase, forcing both the selectmen and the school district to look for further cuts in already-tight budgets. The BOF made it clear that three factors heavily influenced its decision to demands cuts. First, the state’s need to balance its budget may cost Connecticut towns sorely needed revenue. Second, the BOF wants to rebuild the town’s reserves as quickly as possible after completing the Kelly Lane School construction, while servicing the town’s debt load. The debt load is at its peak and will decrease in subsequent years. Third, the members felt that the community would not support a budget that increased taxes any more than 2 percent. The BOF, as it has said in the past, hoped that next year would be better after the peak in debt load repayment.
When Addley provided the BOE with a budget update, he was very clear about his frustration over the cuts and his concerns about maintaining quality. Several members expressed that they did not share these concerns because new special education teachers and new high school courses have been kept in the budget. Melissa Migliaccio, Vice Chair, sees growth in the FY 2017 budget even with the cuts, not merely the status quo. Lynn Guelzow echoed that sentiment, calling the budget cuts “responsible and reasonable…under the circumstances” though she cautioned that she “looked forward to brighter days” after this year of belt-tightening.
Rosemarie Weber again called for a review of district programs and their efficacy. She urged the BOE to see the upcoming budget year as an “opportunity to reflect and then move forward strategically.”
Jenny Emery and Mark Fiorentino concurred with Addley. Fiorentino stated he was “not happy about a 1 percent decrease or zero percent budget,” agreeing with Addley that it was a step backward. While hopeful that the budget decrease is a short-term setback as the BOF promised, he wants the BOE to be strategic about spreading out new programs and courses over the next few years.
The board tasked Addley with cutting the extra 1 percent recommended by the BOF. The board is scheduled to meet every Wednesday in March to hammer out the FY 2017 budget.
FY 16 budget
Anna Robbins, the new business manager, reported the general fund is running $94,000 favorable. By adjusting transportation billings and arrangements, the district is $25,000 more favorable than in December. Billings for special education tuition from other towns increased $42,000 in January. HVAC systems and other maintenance needs are being closely watched as the spring season approaches.
School Improvement Plans
All the district schools presented School Improvement Plans to the board this month. Each school focused on the district’s writing goal and using differentiation in classrooms to spur individualized learning. The schools are working ton calibrating their assessment tools and providing opportunities for teachers to learn strategies from one another.
At the elementary level, staff is actively incorporating curriculum compacting for students who demonstrate early mastery through the unit pre-tests. These students are then given a project in order to bring the concept into the real world.
The high school is close to completing the implementation of the Capstone Plan. A proposal has been written to bring Capstone to all students so they may delve deeply into a topic area about which they are passionate.
The middle school is tackling the achievement gap between groups of students. The teachers received professional development around the growth model supported by Carol Dweck. Additionally, struggling students have been identified by strategically using testing data and been given appropriate tiered interventions.