After considerable discussion, the Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously to adopt Superintendent Anthony Bivona’s recommendations, including foregoing the restoration of a classroom teaching position at Huckleberry Hill Elementary School (HHES), as its blueprint for offsetting a recent $92,086 reduction by the Board of Finance (BOF) to the 2011-2012 proposed budget.
Bivona said during Wednesday’s regular meeting that under the finance board’s proposal of $36,300,000 for education, the school district would be able to reallocate two existing teaching positions to HHES.
He said based on recent discussions with the school district’s administrative team, it has been determined that one of the reallocated teachers from another school in the district would be placed in second grade and the other in fourth grade, which would bring the projected average class sizes for each of those grades at HHES down to 21 students per teacher, which are within the school board’s guidelines.
Bivona said that by not adding another teacher for the third grade, those class sizes would be at 23 students per teacher, which are above the guidelines, but are not excessive.
The finance board’s initial proposal, which was approved March 29, reduced the school board’s recommended budget by $92,086.
That would leave the schools with a 2.49 percent spending increase for the fiscal year that starts in July.
The finance board’s proposed $56,091,000 budget for the next fiscal year will be the subject of public hearings Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in the HHES upper gymnasium and next Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the BHS auditorium. That plan would increase taxes by 2.9 percent. Some finance board members have said they want to keep the boost in the mill rate below 3 percent.
The finance board is scheduled to revise its proposed budget Apri 19 and then send that package to the annual town meeting May 3. A referendum is tentatively scheduled for May 17.
Bivona’s proposal, which was developed following discussions last Friday with the administrative team, would eliminate the $50,000 that had been allocated for the additional third grade teacher.
It also would slash the textbook accounts by $4,000 at Whisconier Middle School (WMS), $2,950 at HHES and $3,860 at Brookfield High School (BHS).
HHES Principal Mary Rose Dymond said the school could endure the reduction by continuing to use some books that have become frayed and WMS Principal Deane Renda said his school could take that same step. He also said students at WMS have been utilizing more Internet resources in recent years and there has been less use of textbooks.
Bivona said the administrative team felt it would be better to forego adding the third grade teacher than eliminate some other proposed new initiatives.
The superintendent said that under his plan, the district would be able to add a fifth grade Spanish teacher at WMS, a proposal that has been discussed for years. It also would be able to add a .4 (part-time) music teacher in the district.
Additionally, there would be a second library media specialist at BHS who would help in developing an ambitious digital education program that would include the purchase of iPads and instruction on how to effectively conduct research on the Internet.
Art Colley, the school district’s business and technology director, has said he doesn’t know of another school in the state that already has such an extensive program in digital instruction.
The other budget changes included cutting $12,072 for a clerk’s position in the human resources department and utilizing $19,204 in additional Title I funding for a paraprofessional.
Some school board members said that they felt that even though the package might be altered differently in the future, particularly if the municipal budget is defeated at referendum next month, it was important to display unity behind Bivona’s plan as the public hearings approach.
School board Vice Chairman Rob Gianazza generated much discussion after he proposed eliminating the full-time assistant principal’s position at HHES and instead having a “floating” assistant principal that would cover the combined grades from kindergarten through sixth grade at Center Elementary School (CES), HHES and WMS.
He said that when he was elected to the school board in November 2003 the enrollment at CES has declined by 57 students and by 117 students at HHES and 128 students at WMS.
Gianazza said the enrollment at BHS over that period had increased by 58 students.
He noted that June Gordon, the assistant principal for the fifth and sixth grade students at WMS, was the principal at CES before taking her current position less than two years ago and that before that she was the assistant principal at HHES, which gives her experience in all three of the buildings.
School board member Harry Shaker said Gianazza’s proposal “had merit.” He said he wanted to avoid slashing spending for teachers and textbooks at HHES.
School board member Mike Fenton said he was “on the fence” about eliminating an assistant principal.
He recommended that, among other things, the administration review the costs associated with the extra pay positions.
School board member Victor Katz said that based on his daughter’s experiences at HHES he has come to understand “how important it is to have an assistant principal at that school.”
“It would overburden the principal not to have an assistant principal there,” he said.
School board Chairman Ray DiStephan said in an interview that the three schools that would be covered are “unique communities and having someone handle three different buildings is probably an impossible task.”
He said that, for example, there are more requirements for administrators to conduct teacher evaluations, a task that was largely handled in kindergarten by a director of instruction from 2000 to 2004, before that position was eliminated as a result of budget cuts after the budget was defeated twice at referendum.
Bivona said the school district has a lean administrative structure, noting that two years ago a study by the University of Connecticut indicated that it ranked among the best districts in the state in the efficient allocation of resources.
Colley added the business portfolio to his technology responsibilities three years ago and around that same time the athletic director’s position at BHS was downgraded to an athletic coordinator.
School board member Samir Qureshi said although enrollments at three of the schools have declined over the last eight years, it is difficult to project what might happen in the future.
He said there might be many families with younger children that will move to Brookfield.
Bivona added that the schools are now required to maintain higher safety standards on their grounds and that a full-time assistant principal helps in addressing those needs.