Make sure school budget cuts do not negatively impact students

To the Editor:

At the Board of Education meeting on Jan. 15, the board instructed Dr. Title to cut $1.5 million from the proposed education budget of $156 million. At the following BOE meeting on Jan. 29, after much discussion on potential cost reductions, the BOE budget was cut by only $342,417 (7-2 vote). Of this, 46% savings was due to the elimination of extended day kindergarten busing.

It is important for the residents to know that the bulk of the increase to the education budget is not from an increase in student programs, but rather from healthcare costs and pension expenses. At both BOE meetings, Dr. Title communicated that the budget had a chance of making it through the town bodies and the BOE might be jumping to cut the budget prematurely.

The revised 2013-14 BOE budget of $155 million will be sent on to the first selectman for review then on to the Board of Finance and the RTM. Should the other town bodies recommend an additional reduction to BOE budget, both the BOE members and Dr. Title will need to find areas to cut.

We remind Dr. Title that these cuts should not impact the instruction in the classroom for our children, as teachers and programs are the daily source of education for our children. Reductions need to begin in the central office. Year after year, the administration deftly rallies the parents to protest cuts to the proposed education budget, by strategically threatening the elimination of programs and services. Central office needs to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the top heavy and multi-layered administration staff. After all, isn’t the educational budget supposed to benefit the students?

As costs increase year after year in the education budget, Dr. Title needs to be creative in closing the budget gap rather than falling back on the easy solution of eliminating student programs. As several BOE members stated at the Jan. 15 meeting, the school system is “not about employment, but about the kids.” Our school district needs to understand that the more we cut these programs, the more it degrades the students’ learning in the classroom. Central office is not student facing, but primarily an overhead expense.

As the request to cut the budget is a very difficult one for the BOE members, many have recommended some creative ways to reduce and add revenue to mitigate expense cuts. Some BOE members provided specific cuts while others asked the superintendent to provide and present a detailed list of cuts at the Jan. 29 meeting.

First, look at central office. Since most of the increase comes from employment related expenses, some suggested reducing and consolidating clerical and business service staff. Others suggested changing the responsibilities of curriculum leaders to curriculum coordinators, which would allow them to teach in the classroom and assist at the schools.

Second, look at BOE expenses. Other expenses that are not accretive to student programs and could be reduced are the CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education) membership, which not all BOE members utilize, as well as the $3,000 BOE workshop fees.

Adding revenue. One BOE member suggested adding “pay to play” and “pay to participate,” which would cover all activities not just sports. One BOE member suggested selling signage on the high school fields to sponsors. Others suggested raising rental fees charged for using the school buildings, as this would reduce the cost of custodial time charged to the district for after school and non-school events. Although increasing the fees in theory should cover custodial charges, the education side does not receive the fees rental. The rental fees go to the Town, not the Education side, but this should lower overall taxes.

Now, look at student programs. Other suggestions were focused on student programs, such as reduction of music, chorus and orchestra programs at the elementary level; increasing class size at the elementary level, which would need to be re-addressed at the next contract negotiation; reducing world language programs in the high school; and removing high school guidance counselors through consolidating the students to fewer counselors.

Another suggestion was to allow students who play a varsity sport to receive PE credit if the coaches were PE teachers. This would be a way to cut back on PE in the high school.

If you eliminate programs then offer alternatives… at no extra cost. There was discussion to eliminate the gifted program at the middle school level and to look at reinstating levels in the curriculum, such as reinstating an additional level in math or language arts, while implementing enrichment programs in the Unified Arts Program (STEM programs or journalism courses). Dr. Title was adamantly opposed to reinstating leveling in curriculum as he stated, “Balance is beneficial to everybody.” What does this exactly mean?

Looking at less expensive alternatives for the future. A discussion on the cost of tuition for students placed in programs outside the district prompted a request for a cost analysis of a therapeutic day school option. This program of course would require additional staff and building space, but in the long run might reduce the cost of outplacement.

When the request for additional reductions come back to the Board of Education, Dr. Title and the BOE members need to make sure the cuts to the education budget do not impact the instruction in the classroom for our children.

 

Dawn Llewellyn

Fairfield

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