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Reed’s Proposed School Budget: 0.75% Increase, Fewer Positions

Reed said the district is "not running away" from enrollment, reducing staff and lowering school budgets.

Interim Superintendent John Reed presented the Board of Education with a proposed school budget Thursday with a $534,730 — or 0.75% — increase in the coming year, in a presentation that emphasized technology and acknowledged the staffing cuts that he said must come with declining enrollment.

"I can stand here and say this budget does not have new programs,” Reed said. "It does not have new initiatives, and other than special education, it does not have new staff.”

In total, the proposed budget contains about 20 fewer positions than last year, the biggest decrease in staff in at least 10 years. (Four full-time positions alone would be cut from the Middle School.) Eight elementary positions are reduced from the budget this year, with the possibility for two more.

“That’s where the declining enrollment has been,” Reed said, referring to Newtown’s elementary schools. "We may be beginning to bottom out.”

One full-time and one part-time special education position were added to the proposed budget.

Reed said the cuts would save more than $1 million from the budget at a time when enrollment sits at a 10-year low and decreases are projected to continue next year.

"We’re not running away from it,” he said. "We understand. And we don’t see that turning around any time in the foreseeable future … Until last year, the district was reducing an average of about seven positions per year. Last year, we paused. So this summer we began thinking about this and made a judgment as the enrollment data was coming in.”

While Reed’s proposed budget does cut positions, it also includes an increase of more than $263,000, or 16%, to the district’s $1.6 million curriculum and technology. He said the district needed to catch up on updating its obsolete equipment, a task budgeted at $287,000.

"Technology is not a fad,” he said. "It’s not something we have a choice about embracing. The board specifically wants to maintain existing and expanding tech requirements."

During the hour-long presentation, Reed reminded attendees the district’s goal was to pass a successful budget on the first attempt, which would require satisfying voters and working closely with Newtown’s Legislative Council and Board of Finance. School board members plan to schedule a meeting with the finance board soon to discuss enrollment and the budget.

"I don’t see anything that’s beneficial by having five referendums on the budget,” Reed said. "I think it’s so confusing to the public. Our goal is to have the kind of budget that will make the difficult decisions at the board level, that convinces the community we have the integrity to make difficult decisions."

Earlier this month, Board of Finance member Joseph Kearney presented an analysis of current trends showing the results of a declining enrollment and an increasing budget over the next five years in Newtown.

By The Numbers

The biggest cuts come to general services (more than $300,000) and plant operation and maintenance (more than $100,000.)

The biggest increases are for the district’s special education program ($246,594), employee benefits ($240,222) and curriculum and technology  — $263,628, an increase of more than 16%.

The budget cuts costs at all levels of education except the high school, which would receive an additional $65,000. The biggest cut went out to Newtown Middle School, more than $116,000.

Last year’s first budget proposal from former Superintendent Janet Robinson was a 6.5% increase. After it failed at two referendums, voters approved a reduced $71 million budget in June.

The school will budget its security costs separately, Reed said. The district is examining an alternate security model currently used by several other Connecticut towns in which former police officers serve at schools, armed but without the power to arrest. In 2013, board members examined the success of the program at North Branford and Enfield schools.

Board of Education members will discuss components of the budget in depth at meetings scheduled for Jan. 28, Jan. 30, Feb. 4 and Feb. 6. The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt a budget on Feb. 6 and submitted to Finance Director Robert Tait by Feb. 14.
Douglas Brennan February 03, 2014 at 11:23 AM
No one here is hiding their identity! The person that these remarks have been attributed to, fixed and variable costs, is no volunteer. They are paid a considerable salary and receive an attractive benefit package from the taxpayers of Newtown. And why would you associate my comments with that of another person. I did not call you a fool. Someone else did. My thanking of "Thomas Craft" was merely thanking someone for researching the fact that there are now 85 more positions then there were at the same enrollment level during a previous budget cycle. N
Douglas Brennan February 03, 2014 at 03:03 PM
Unfortunately Porter you are again wrong. Paid the property taxes last Thursday at the new Town Hall at Fairfield Hills. You really need to be more informed before you comment.

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