The Brookfield Board of Education (BOE) approved a proposed $37,185,545 budget that would increase spending by 2.86 percent, add more teachers at the elementary schools through the reallocation of existing positions and some additional funding, while also restoring money for paraprofessionals and remedial reading instructors, which .
“Parents expect us to provide a quality education,” BOE Vice Chairman Jane Miller said Wednesday in voting for the package, which is slightly higher than the 2.76 percent spending hike that .
BOE Chairman Ray DiStephan voted against the package, indicating that he supported another of the four scenarios provided by the administration, which would have only increased spending by 2.74 percent.
However, he said he was comfortable with the adopted plan, noting that it is only $46,000 higher than the plan he supported.
BOE member Harry Shaker said he favored a 2.48 percent spending increase, indicating that to get approved in May at referendum, the budget would need to carry a hike of less than 2.7 percent.
The adopted package was approved 4-3, with Miller, Scott McCarthy, Victor Katz and Paul Checco supporting it and BOE Secretary Susan Queenan, Shaker and DiStephan voting in opposition.
The plan includes an additional kindergarten teacher at (CES), which should lower class sizes to 18 students per teacher as the district starts its next August. There also will be extended time for monitors at CES.
Under the proposal, the school district would add a fourth grade teacher at (HHES) and reallocate a teacher from (WMS) to HHES and restore the two remedial reading teachers that the BOE had considered eliminating.
School administrators have said the additional teachers at HHES should bring the average classroom sizes to the BOE’s guidelines or at least close to meeting that standard.
“Getting the class sizes down at Huckleberry has long been an issue,” DiStephan said.
The BOE also decided to restore the full-time equivalent of 5.67 paraprofessional positions that had been proposed for elimination since federal funds to pay for them will expire in June.
Tim Riddle, the president of the paraprofessionals bargaining unit, told the BOE during public comment that the loss of the 5.67 positions “will have an impact on kids.”
“The paraprofessionals are part of the classroom team,” said Olga Weitzman, who, like Riddle, is a paraprofessional at WMS.
“We are the first line of defense,” she added.
Bivona said the paraprofessionals are “dedicated educators” and that his proposal to eliminate the positions wasn’t “devaluing” them.
He said he was attempting to “balance the budget the best we could.”
Bivona said over the recent years the district had eliminated 14 teaching positions and only seven paraprofessional positions.
DiStephan said in an interview after the meeting that he believed the BOE restored the positions because the members believe “that they impact” students.
Riddle said his members will speak to the Board of Finance (BOF) as it considers the proposed municipal budget this spring.
“We’re going to leave no stone unturned to get it done,” he said.
The BOE’s proposal also includes a maintenance mechanic, a new position that would be responsible for heating and ventilation issues and other maintenance related to the school buildings.
DiStephan has said he believes it would be better to have a staff person address those issues instead of outsourcing the work.
The BOE was able to restore some proposed reductions and keep the spending increase under 2.9 percent by lowering a variety of line items, including coaches, postage and leases on photocopying machines.
The BOE’s proposed budget will be sent by January 31 to First Selectman Bill Davidson, who is expected to present his proposed municipal budget to the Board of Selectmen (BOS) by February 15.
The BOS will then adopt its recommended plan and send it to the BOF by March 1.
DiStephan said the BOE’s proposed 2.86 percent increase is comparable to what several other similar districts are recommending.
“Now we have to let everybody know that we think this is a reasonable budget in regards to the kids and the homeowners,” he said.
Brookfield is undergoing a revaluation of property values, which, generally speaking, have declined as a result of the economic recession.
“I believe that dollars spent on schools have a return to every homeowner,” DiStephan said. “I think it’s a very sound investment.”