2013-14 school budget: 1.75% increase is the starting point

An increase of 1.75% over the current Redding school budget is the proposed number for the 2013-14 fiscal year budget.

Dr. Bernard Josefsberg, superintendent for Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts, presented a $22,011,593 budget proposal, which is a $378,122 increase over the current $21,633,471 budget, at the Redding Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Board members had a more in-depth conversation about the proposed budget for the elementary and middle schools on Jan. 10 during a budget workshop, where they discussed the health insurance reserve and staff reductions.

The goals for the 2013-14 budget are to renew the hallmark of personalized learning, retain “seed corn,” meaning non-tenured or newer teachers who can grow with Redding, adapt to state-mandated changes, fund physical plant and security needs, replenish the health insurance reserve, and blend quality expectations with taxpayer concerns, said Dr. Josefsberg.

Budget drivers mirror the goals and relate to enrollment, professional and staff salaries, unfunded mandates and professional development, health insurance, and physical plant and security concerns, he said.

Enrollment is projected to decline 5.5% from this school year.

“It is projected to decline 32% over the next 10 years,” said Dr. Josefsberg.

With the projected enrollment decline, there will be staff reductions in both schools.

Two full-time equivalent employees at Redding Elementary School will be cut, 3.4 full-time equivalent employees will be cut at John Read Middle School and for the special education department, a 0.4 full-time equivalent employee will be cut, along with three aides, said Dr. Josefsberg.

“One full-time equivalent is a full-time teacher. Point-four is two-fifths of that full-time teacher. So a full-time teacher will be reduced to a part-time teacher. Rather than five classes, for example, this individual would teach three classes,” said Dr. Josefsberg in an email.

During the meeting, Dr. Josefsberg said the reduction would retain “younger teachers … I’m referring to non-tenured teachers and tenured teachers with less seniority than their colleagues who are subject to Reduction in Force procedures.”

Reduction in Force procedures are developed by the U.S. Office of Policy Management and provide guidance to federal agencies when laying off employees.

“I referred to them on Tuesday as our ‘seed corn,’ alluding to our investment to date in their teaching skills and the contributions they would make to our students in the future were we able to retain them. I believe that we should make every effort to do so,” he said.

The Redding Education Foundation sent a letter to the board asking it to consider an early retirement incentive to teachers.

“Offering early incentives is not the way to do it,” said Lewis Goldberg, a board member. “We pay them to stay. Now we’re paying them to leave? I think it’s a random approach. You don’t know who’s going to take it.”

By offering an early retirement incentive, a teacher who might not have been considered for a cut could end up taking the early retirement, he said.

Board Chair Jess Gaspar said there will be a more thorough conversation in executive session at February’s meeting.

The staff members who continue to be employed by Redding will see a salary increase of 2.8% for 2013-14 and 2.8% for 2014-15. This current year there was a salary increase of 1%, he said.

A discussion of the need for kindergarten paraprofessionals also came up during the budget workshop. Dr. Josefsberg said there can be a paraprofessional for every kindergarten class or every other.

Redding Elementary School Principal Carrie Wessman Huber said kindergarten class numbers have to be read differently.

“With 15 to 16 children per class, having an aide in every class is very appropriate,” she said. “I’ve seen teachers operate with a shared aide. It can be done, but it’s worthwhile to have an aide in every room.”

With current enrollment numbers, kindergarten classes would drop from six sections to five, so no additional paraprofessionals would be needed, and with five sections there would be one paraprofessional for each section, she said.

Nancy Prader, a second grade teacher and former kindergarten teacher, said a paraprofessional in every kindergarten class is needed.

“I can’t imagine a day without a para. We needed that extra body,” she said. “It’d be extremely difficult without a para — the kids would suffer tremendously.”

Because of the education reform bill that passed in 2012, the board has to budget for mandates that fund the continuation of the common core state standard curriculum, administrator and teacher evaluations and preparing for new tests that students will take in 2015. Professional development also has to be funded in order to train teachers how to evaluate and implement the new mandates, said Dr. Josefsberg.

“Professional evaluation classroom observation training is budgeted at $21,766. Common core curriculum revision is budgeted at $27,575, and benchmark and state standardized testing is at $35,463,” he said.

Health insurance is budgeted at $2,710,609, which includes an 8.8% increase in claims over the current year’s budget and a proposed $162,169 to replenish the reserve fund, which is currently at a deficit of $56,000.

If the first five months of claims for the 2012-13 school year, estimated to be about 44% of the entire year’s worth of claims, the reserve could end with a balance of $81,034, said Peggy Sullivan, director of finance and operations for ER9. The proposed $162,169 would then be added to that.

Ms. Sullivan said the reserve fund should have at least one and a half to two months’ worth of claims available.

Rebuilding the reserve fund to a $350,000 to $400,000 range is estimated to take three years, said Dr. Josefsberg.

The board had received guidance from the Board of Finance to “run leaner” when it comes to the health reserve fund, but Mr. Gaspar said he thinks $81,034 is “too low.”

“We can go to them with our 1.75% proposal or we can go with 1% and have the Board of Finance fill the gap,” he said.

Jamie Barickman, board member, said an 8% increase in health insurance claims “sounds reasonable,” but he would like to talk to the Board of Finance.

“We can add a half-percent increase to the budget and see if they would prefer to put the money in the operating budget or deal with it separately. See what the town thinks is the right thing,” said Mr. Barickman.

Melinda Irwin, board member, suggested the board go to the Board of Finance for a one-time ask.

“They’d give the money to us, and if we have a good year, we give it back,” she said.

Mr. Goldberg said he does not like the idea of going to the Board of Finance.

“I’m not a fan of going to the town. We might have to go for other capital expenditures. We can ask for another 1% in order to build up the reserve,” he said.

“It’s health care. It’s not a frivolous cost,” said Ms. Irwin.

Sara Sobel, another board member, reiterated that the Board of Finance told the school board it could come to the board if necessary and said, “We’ve got your back.”

“It’s our budget, our responsibility,” said Mr. Goldberg.

The proposal also showed a $135,000 expenditure on security features which has since been referred to the selectmen, who will send the request to the finance board for funding this fiscal year. If the finance board approves, the appropriation would be sent to a town meeting for a vote.

The security details have yet to be decided.

Capital improvements budgeted at $57,200 are also in the proposal. These improvements are in addition to the capital items in the five-year plan, said Dr. Josefsberg.

Security at Redding schools will be a continued conversation throughout the budget process, he said.

The next Board of Education meeting is on Tuesday, Feb. 5, and the next budget workshop is on Thursday, Feb. 8, at John Read Middle School at 7:30 p.m.

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