By Lisa Capobianco
The Southington Board of Education recently presented its proposed budget before the Board of Finance, requesting a total of $87,072,005 for the coming fiscal year. This reflects an increase of 3.37 percent over this year’s adopted budget of $84,233,204.
The budget comes with a reduction of $187,868 from the original proposal of Southington School Supt. Dr. Joseph Erardi.
Sherri DiNello, the director of Business and Finance for the school district, highlighted the areas that contributed the most to increase of the proposed budget. She said salaries account for 50.5 percent of the increase, the request in personnel accounts for just below 10 percent, and health insurance accounts for 15 percent of increase.
“What is before you is a budget that is unanimously endorsed 9-0,” said Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski during the presentation before the finance board.
During a presentation before the Board of Finance, Dr. Erardi reflected back on lost programs between 2007 and 2013, referring to that period as a difficult time. Within that time frame, lost programs included an elimination of dedicated enrichment staff K-12, a reduction of middle school and high school freshmen athletic competitions, a reduction in certified library media specialists and instrumental music for third grade students.
“We designate the six-year period as times that have been very difficult in all communities and in this particular community, a community that I’m proud to represent the school board for, has done an outstanding job of trying to marginalize the reduction of programs even in the most difficult of times,” Dr. Erardi said during beginning of the budget presentation.
Assistant Superintendent Karen Smith said despite those challenges, the district was able to achieve new and lost programs over the last several years, including all-day kindergarten, the Family Resource Center, an elementary guidance and counseling program (funded with a grant of $1.2 million) and continued enrichment through partnerships with Talcott Mountain Science Center and Middlesex Community College as well as internship opportunities for high school students.
Under the proposed budget, professional development increased $11,500 to meet the needs of the new evaluation system and the new state assessment program. Health insurance costs are also proposed to increase 5.6 percent over the current funding level.
The proposed budget calls for the restoration of lost staff and programming, requesting a return of a library media specialist for both middle schools at an expense of $54,150, as well as a literacy specialist (for DePaolo Middle School) and a math specialist (for Kennedy Middle School) at an expense of $54,150.
“That request is based on data and student needs,” said Smith during the presentation before the finance board. “The library media specialist… is the restoration of what had been eliminated and with our state-of-the-library medias that are currently being built at DePaolo and Kennedy, it would be a shame not to house or staff them.”
The proposal also calls for proposed new support staff for teaching, learning and safety, including three additional positions to take the role of Teacher Leader at a cost of $140,250, an additional central office secretary at an expense of $22,000 as well as an additional paraprofessional support staff to enhance supervision in the in-school suspension room of Southington High School.
“With new initiatives that we are responsible for, which includes teacher evaluation, professional development as well, it is absolutely necessary for us to increase staffing in the area providing support and professional development to our current staff,” Smith said to the finance board.
Besides new staff members, the budget proposal addresses Phase II of the technology plan, which includes the ongoing lease program for computer replacements with an annual payment of $85,000 and an amount of $200,000 required to phase-in the second of a three-year technology infrastructure upgrade to refresh network switches and to install an enterprise Wi-Fi solution. There is also a request for a management level position at a cost of $65,000 to oversee the K-12 network of the school district in the area of technology.
“The board is truly committed to the movement forward with technology—we have a three-year plan,” Dr. Erardi said. “The total cost for our technology upgrade, including staffing, infrastructure, software, is $430,000.”
After the presentation, the school board answered over a dozen questions previously submitted by Board of Finance Vice Chairman Joe Labieniec and other members of the finance board. Questions addressed topics such as the Common Core State Standards, the cost of all-day kindergarten and the teacher/administrator evaluation process. Goralski answered the questions aloud on behalf of the school board.
“At one time there was an adversarial relationship between the Board of Education and the Board of Finance. I’m proud to be a part of seeing that diminish to one of teamwork and cooperation,” said Goralski in the beginning of the budget presentation, adding that communication has improved between the school board and finance board.
“We will do our best to ask the questions, be as informative as we can to make an intelligent fact-based decision as we move forward with the Board of Ed budget plus the town budget,” said Board of Finance Chairman John Leary after the budget presentation.