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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.
John Castigo 7 January 25, 2014 at 12:21 PM
porter, this is for you: http://newtown.patch.com/groups/politically-incorrect-free-speech-7/p/open-invite-to-porter-gladstone-to-debate-the-second-amendment .......... An open invite to debate me, one on one. Hope you accept. This thread is not the place for our talks.
Tom Bittman January 25, 2014 at 12:51 PM
People like Thomas Crafts say "we're going down" - his way of saying the sky is falling. Let's look at facts. Did the population of Columbine "go down" after their shooting? No, it grew in the next decade faster than the previous. How about "demographics?" Newtown grew at an unusual rate in the late 1990s. This caused a student boom that peaked at 21% of the population. If we use Southbury ass an example of an older community, their percentage is 17%. Middlebury is 18%. If we assume we are going to fall to Southbury levels, that means our student population should settle at 4,400-4,500 - 200-300 less than now. And then grow steadily as the population grows.
Tom Bittman January 25, 2014 at 12:52 PM
I blame typos on my iPhone.
Thomas Crafts January 25, 2014 at 05:16 PM
Buying a house in Newtown was not a good investment, clearly.
Kevin Fitzgerald January 25, 2014 at 07:56 PM
Marilyn, the unanimous votes after Dr. Robinson left came only because the BOE leadership ended its which hunt and decided to support the Superintendent, as they should have done all along.
Thomas Crafts January 26, 2014 at 05:38 AM
Porter, you are an idiot. Did you ever think that people have other interests, other priorities besides their property taxes? Well we do. I will eventually be gone from this little socialist utopia of a town, but not yet. While I am obliged to be here, I am going to speak out against government waste and abuse by the teachers union. 4 or 5 referendae have now become the norm. It wasn't that way when we started.
Thomas Crafts January 26, 2014 at 06:20 AM
We have a projected 200 student decline for the coming school year, around 4%. Why would we spend more for 4% fewer students??
Marilyn January 26, 2014 at 05:32 PM
Kevin, I don't disagree with you. However, with leadership comes respect, which clearly Janet didn't have. She was also not invested in the town because she didn't live here. Pretty sure I never saw a budget presentation like we saw last week, from her. Did you ever see her at your kid's school? 5 years in an elementary school and she was never there... not even after 12/14! That speaks volumes!
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com January 26, 2014 at 06:26 PM
Grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence!
Thomas Crafts January 27, 2014 at 07:06 AM
Devil you know versus devil you don't. This guy looks like a cost cutter. Three cheers for that. As for why we should have a lower education budget, we are the best part of 1,000 kids off the peak enrollment, or around 20%. This has been happening for years but has accelerated this year. Teaching staff has 85 more faces at the feed trough during the same period of time. What's wrong with this picture??
Douglas Brennan January 27, 2014 at 08:02 AM
Thank you Thomas. I am sure that your facts are correct.
Kevin Fitzgerald January 27, 2014 at 08:59 AM
Marilyn, I think respect for Dr. Robinson depends on if you believe everything certain groups of people wanted you to believe. You have to remember, before they were even elected, some BOE members made claims of waste and mismanagement in the district. When they could not find either, they tried to find fault with the Superintendent instead. They claimed she did and said things that she never did and they even resorted to secretly recording her meetings until the PTA told the BOE Vice Chair to cut it out. Every accusation they made (lies, mismanagement, etc.) was found to be either unsupported or manufactured. The closest thing to a bad decision by the Superintendent was when she did not inform the BOE in advance of her plan to add the Communications consultant, which was in response to the Parent & Teacher-created Strategic Plan and a request by the Legislative Council to fill that communications gap. But that's not how the BOE explained it to the press. In the end, she was allowed to do what she did and broke no rules. But you never heard that from the BOE, did you? While I agree the Superintendent was not a great communicator with the public, she was certainly not what you were led to believe. In my opinion, when the BOE Chair claimed the Superintendent misled the Board about her conversation with Secretary Pryor it was a clear message that even after 12/14 the BOE management would not stop their harassment of the Superintendent because they had to save face with the public. So her departure was inevitable. She did not want to continue working in a District where the current BOE leadership did not support the District as all of the previous BOEs she worked with had. By the way, even Secretary Pryor has made clear that the claims made by the BOE Chair about his conversation with the Superintendent was inaccurate. Yet you never heard or read a retraction from the BOE, did you? But because respect for someone is a personal thing, I don't think it's worth debating. We can agree to disagree on that. But yes, I did see Janet in my children's schools often, even as recently as two weeks ago. And about the budget presentation, I did appreciate Dr. Reed's presentation but only because I like Dr. Reed and I recognize he's just the Interim so I understand there's not much else he can do but to give Town officials the near-zero budget they asked for. But unlike Dr. Robinson, he made very little mention of the challenges that such a low budget will put onto the shoulders of the principals and the district. While he did make clear there are no new programs, positions or initiatives this year, he failed to mention what the district will do to ensure they can maintain a quality education program with reduced resources. That's an important piece that will come out soon enough, and I was disappointed he did not lay that out. Dr. Robinson, on the other hand, would likely have put forward a higher, but still very lean, budget request based on those resources the principals and the District needed most but she would also be able to justify them. In the past she would also explain those resources which would not be requested and how that would impact the District's programs. This way parents with children in the schools would understand the trade-offs that were made and how the District intends to minimize any negative impact on education.
Marilyn January 27, 2014 at 10:14 PM
Kevin, do your kids go to Stratford schools? You lost me on the fact that Janet was in the schools recently? I'm pretty sure that even though "interim" precedes Superintendent, Dr. Reed didn't just "give Town officials the near-zero budget they asked for." He has always had a vested interest in this district...why else would he come back? You make him sound like a substitute teacher that the kids play pranks on because they know it's not the "real teacher". The word respect comes back into play. He has earned it! I find it hard to believe he's just going through the motions. The BOE has issues...that is clear! They are ego driven! We can agree to disagree on Janet. Sadly she was never in my child's school for the 5 years she was here.
Thomas Crafts January 28, 2014 at 05:44 AM
Porter, First read this http://newtown.schooldesk.net/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=sfQ9dH39ztM%3d&tabid=3294&mid=8370 This is tracking very close to actual and as you can see, we are currently 4,900 not 5250 (that was 2 years ago) second the peak was 5,700 in 2007, so this year (2014) we will have 900 fear students in the school system than we did just 7 years ago. http://newtown.schooldesk.net/DistrictInformation/DistrictReports/tabid/3295/Default.aspx Lastly a 150% increase on a base of 3500 would be how much? 100 % of 3500 is 3500. and 50% of 3500 is 1750, so if you add those 3 numbers together you get a 150% increase on 3500 which is 8750, not 5250. Simple percentages is something you should have learned in grade school.
Thomas Crafts January 29, 2014 at 08:15 AM
Rounding errors porter, but I see you get the point, which is good. How do you justify a continually increasing education budget in the face of this steep and accelerating decline??? The bottom is projected at 3900 in 2019, where should school spending be headed??
Thomas Crafts January 29, 2014 at 06:00 PM
The current class size are in the low teens. 1,000 fewer students would, you would think, lead to a lower head count in teaching staff and administration. Instead we have 85 more than at peak enrollment??? WTF??
Thomas Crafts January 30, 2014 at 05:43 PM
What happened to Porter? Did you take your ball and go home, or get Zapped?
Thomas Crafts January 30, 2014 at 05:45 PM
Ding dong Porter got Zapped! Good call, but he'll be back!
Douglas Brennan January 31, 2014 at 02:15 PM
Dear Porter: While you are correct on the Margin, the Business Director has stated that "all costs are variable." This was when enrollment was increasing. Now that enrollment has decreased significantly it appears that all costs are "more than fixed." It is very difficult even for those that practice the art of "false choices" and misdirected argumentation to reconcile these two positions. While on the margin I understand your argument, it does not work when you are dealing with numbers of the magnitude that you cite. It, unfortunately, also indicates the apparent lack of flexibility of the work force, management and staff to embrace and work collectively in a changing environment. "In the long run all costs are variable" and for today "all costs are fixed" however when planning for next year not all costs are fixed. The lack of creativity in making meaningful reductions in spending might be characterized as appalling.
Thomas Crafts January 31, 2014 at 05:12 PM
Dumb point? It's the most salient point. If we had zero kids to educate, what should the school budget be??? Time to close some schools.
Thomas Crafts February 01, 2014 at 10:07 AM
It's incredibly simple. in 2007 we had 250 classrooms of 23 kids (5,750). Now we have 260 classrooms with 19 kids. Solve the equation for 23 kids, so 4900/23=213 classrooms this year. that's where we should be, but we are at 260. Time to downsize because we are headed to 3900 in a few years. 3900/23=170 classrooms. We need to downsize physical plant and personnel, and we should have started 5 years ago. Next year we loose 200 more kids (8.69 classrooms), all on the front end of the pipeline, i.e. kindergarten, 1st grade. Fewer kids in K-1 means fewer kids in older grades going forward. It's demographics, and it's a clear and long established trend in this town and in the country. Instead of downsizing, we are building new schools at vast taxpayer expense. The interests are manipulating school spending to benefit themselves, not the taxpayers and not the kids.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com February 01, 2014 at 10:46 AM
Tom perhaps 23 per classroom is not the right size, and perhaps in 2014 it's not the right size. The school budget has been adjusting based on enrollment each year and will continue to be, but going back to the good old days probably isn't the right number.
Thomas Crafts February 01, 2014 at 10:49 AM
We have added 85 positions in the school system since peak enrollment, and spending has been up every year. 1,000 fewer kids is a major increment.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com February 01, 2014 at 11:00 AM
And the budgets the last few years has reflected that considering inflation. My guess is we will close a school, and it should be the oldest not the newest one.
Thomas Crafts February 01, 2014 at 11:57 AM
You are a fool.
Douglas Brennan February 01, 2014 at 01:37 PM
Thank you Thomas.
Douglas Brennan February 02, 2014 at 05:30 PM
Thank you "Porter." The Lord does not place one above the other does he? The Lord does not send the qualified but qualifies those he sends.
Douglas Brennan February 03, 2014 at 09:53 AM
I have indicated the previous statements made by the Business Director of the BOE an employee of the BOE. These statements cannot, in good faith, be reconciled. So again inconvenient facts often get in the way of self serving conclusions. I am surprised that you have attacked both the background of people whose qualifications you do not know and have not done your research on recommendations made to reduce spending. But after all the voters will decide whether they want to continue to increase the spending despite declining enrollments or whether more fiscal responsibility is the prudent course of action. The only problem with this system is that those that usually support the most spending are never here long enough to pay the final bills.
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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