By Rob Glidden
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Erardi has presented a proposed budget of $86.4 million, an increase of 4.87 percent that is intended to help the district keep pace with changing state standards.
The final budget approved last year for the BOE was about $82 million. The Board of Education examined the new proposal in detail during its budget workshops earlier this week, held after The Observer went to press.
In a letter introducing the budget, Erardi wrote, “This proposed superintendent’s budget maintains the core of our existing programs but also includes initiatives that look to recapture lost programming and/or are presented to the Board of Education as additional needed resources because of our statutory obligation to the Teacher Evaluation Plan and the Common Core State Standards initiative.”
The proposal asks for a handful of new staff members, including three full-time positions to support literacy and numeracy within the district. Erardi also hopes to recruit a full-time K-12 science coordinator and 8.75 positions worth of paraprofessionals. The budget also includes $271,303 worth of funding meant for a three-year “technology infrastructure upgrade” that includes network and wireless internet upgrades. Additional staff to help oversee the “expanded robust network” is expected to cost $98,650.
Then there is the proposal for an all-day kindergarten program, which amounts to over a million dollars but is offset somewhat by staff reductions elsewhere. The net increase in staffing costs to the budget associated with the program amounts to $457,792 with another $147,745 in “furniture, fixtures and equipment” that is expected to be a one-time expense.
“It is also important to know that this K-12 proposal reflects a reduction in staff yet maintains present class size,” Erardi wrote.
The plan has become the subject of impassioned debate within the community and the school district plans to gather more input from parents on January 28 and 30, when officials meet with parents of incoming kindergartners.
“We’re all receiving numerous phone calls, emails and personal contacts,” said BOE Chairman Brian Goralski during a recent meeting. “During our workshops, we’ll be putting our thoughts together as a group.”
To become a reality, the program will have to be endorsed by the BOE and then survive whatever budget reallocations occur as a result of funding decisions by the Board of Finance and the Town Council.
Other parts of the budget’s requested increase are more familiar, including rising health insurance costs, anticipated pay raises for staff, magnet schools tuition and transportation costs. The current proposal is also operating under the assumption that the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funds from the state will not change, but this will not be known for sure until the state government decides on its own budget.