The Board of Education (BOE) plans to hold a special meeting next week to determine if it can get four bargaining units to accept a furlough day in place of professional development workshops and, if it can’t get that concession, whether there should be reductions in teaching positions as it seeks to whittle $150,000 from the proposed budget that was by .
“It is a challenge,” BOE Chairman Ray DiStephan said of the attempt to get the four bargaining units to take a furlough day in place of professional development workshops.
Art Colley, the school district’s business and technology director, said the furlough day would yield about $98,000 in savings.
DiStephan acknowledged that the teachers, for example, would have to acquire the continuing education units to maintain their certifications at another time if a professional development day were eliminated.
“In these economic times, I think it’s worth asking for,” he said after Wednesday’s BOE meeting, where the members had extensive discussion on how to address the $150,000 that the Board of Finance (BOF) slashed from the school district’s proposed budget the night before.
That action was taken just three days after voters rejected a proposed $36,300,000 education budget by a vote of 1,859 to 1,850 at referendum. About 38 percent of the eligible voters turned out to vote on the proposed municipal budget for the fiscal year that starts in July.
The town government budget was narrowly approved. Since both packages must be passed, .
The new education budget proposal would increase spending by 2.06 percent over current levels.
During the BOE meeting, DiStephan indicated that some residents have asked why the school district does not reduce salaries to help address the budget constraints.
He said the BOE doesn’t have the power to alter contacts with the bargaining units after contracts are signed.
Colley said the teachers will receive a 4 percent salary increase in the next fiscal year.
He said at the time that the last contract was settled, which was just before the start of the economic recession, the contract with the teachers was considered to be comparable with what was being awarded in other districts in Connecticut.
Bivona said that while the contracts are in place, the administration “always asks” about the possibility of concessions.
DiStephan described the furlough day as a “soft concession” and that there might be discussions about extending that proposal to a day and a half, which would produce about enough savings to offset the $150,000 reduction in spending in the new proposed budget.
He said that he and Superintendent Anthony Bivona would seek to speak to the leaders of the four bargaining units in the coming days and the BOE would hold a meeting next week to indicate before the second referendum how it will reduce its proposed spending by $150,000.
BOE Vice Chairman Rob Gianazza repeated a proposal he made last month to eliminate an assistant principal’s position from either Whisconier Middle School (WMS) or Huckleberry Hill Elementary School (HHES) and have one of the remaining assistant principals act as a roving administrator between those two schools and Center Elementary School (CES).
He said that with the addition this year of a fifth grade guidance counselor at WMS and a decline in enrollments at HHES and WMS, his plan is feasible.
DiStpehan expressed reservations about that proposal, indicating that it might disrupt some of the administrative duties in those schools.
“I see the value of having a second assistant principal at the middle school,” BOE member Victor Katz said.
“I am opposed to taking teachers out of the classroom,” Gianazza said regarding a proposal made by Bivona that would eliminate two teaching positions in the district.
Bivona said he met with administrators from the district this last Tuesday to discuss the best way to overcome a reduced budget.
The proposal he submitted to the BOE called for the reduction of a full-time teacher at Brookfield High School (BHS) and a sixth grade teacher at WMS.
Additionally, Bivona proposed eliminating an unspecified secretarial position and slashing the school district’s pension contribution by $19,000, which would still represent a 69 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
“Short of concessions, I think we’re going to be faced with a reduction in head count,” DiStephan said.
He said the administrators in the school district were committed to adding a second media-library specialist at BHS to help launch a state-of-the-art Internet studies program that would include supplying each freshman with an iPad and providing instruction on how to do research on the Internet and utilize proper etiquette in digital communications.
“It’s a valuable program, not just because it’s modern day, but because it is extremely cost-effective,” DiStephan said.
The ninth grade students, for example, would be using digital textbooks.
Colley has indicated that aside from the cost of adding a second library media specialist, the program would be virtually cost-neutral.
The school district also is seeking to reallocate two exiting positions to HHES to lower class sizes.
Bivona said the administrators wanted to continue that plan despite the reduction in funds following the defeat of the proposed budget at referendum.
DiStephan said he believes the proposed municipal budget “might have” been approved in last week’s referendum if it had appeared as one question, as had been the case in the past.
Voters decided at the May 3 annual town meeting to have separate questions on town government and education spending.
“When you fall just 10 votes short of winning, you can think of a thousand things that you might have done to get the budget approved,” DiStephan said.
No date has been set for the BOE’s special meeting, although the board chairman said it probably would be next Tuesday or Wednesday.