Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Chairman's View: "Please, Tell Us What a 2% Budget Looks Like" - my column for the New Canaan Advertiser March 5, 2018

Darien schools are requesting a budget increase of 2.34% (including the new tuba). Wilton’s school board is asking for 2.24%. Note, in the last 3 years Wilton has averaged less than a 1% per year. The Stamford public schools requested an increase of 1.48% after coming in last year at 2.2%. Stamford’s low increase was largely the result of a new employment agreement with teachers that moved them from a private insurance plan to the state’s, saving money for taxpayers and teachers. Two months into the budget season New Canaan’s Board of Education continues to request 3.48% saying this is the price of excellence. Think about that: two months into the budget season and there have been no attempts on behalf of the BOE to debate and cut their own budget, no attempt to bring it in line with BOF and BOS guidance of 2%, saying instead that “priorities are purposefully in tension with the Town Council and BOF” 

Half of the Town Council was in attendance at the last Board of Finance meeting and one veteran member said, “I was waiting for someone to simply ask to see the 2% budget as Bryan must have that ready by now…the BOE has been preparing for a couple for months for this.” 

BOE lawyers might say its legal, but without public meetings of a Curriculum Committee or at the Board of Education level we do not know where cuts to the budget will be felt. Advertiser stories on pages 1, 3, 4 and 6 all point at the problem most citizens have in not knowing where cuts will be felt until after we’ve made them

A few years ago the Administration needed curriculum development in response to state mandates for social and emotional learning (SEL). New Canaan took the lead statewide and developed a new curriculum, probably the best in the State.  Curriculum development money is still in in the budget, compounding every year. We spent $15,000 on Happiness training for teachers and $31,500 on a Climate workshop. This year we are adopting the Yale RULER curriculum for $42,000. We are already number 1. Can we please take one year off from curriculum development?

Please don’t threaten to cut favorite programs. Reduce the budget in non-teacher headcount. In the last 3 years enrollment went from 4174 to 4184. We added 10 new students but we added 19.5 net new staff, a $676,147 increase. If you add insurance, pension and benefits that increase exceeds $1 million. In the last 10 years the Board of Ed has added 64 new full time equivalent staff and teachers during a period of relatively flat enrollment. 
Teacher stipends have increased 56% from $622,939 to $970,116 since 2016, offset in part by parent donations and ticket revenues. But that money still comes from parents one way or another. 

Connecticut requires 1.0 credit of health and gym. Darien and Wilton meet the 1.0 credit minimum. New Canaan requires 2.25 credits including substance abuse counseling. Could reducing gym and health to state minimums be part of an opportunity to shorten the school day and provide later sleep times?

2018 is not business as usual after State cuts. As Tom Butterworth correctly points out, we run the risk cutting to 2% without knowing where its coming from. Please, tell us what a 2% budget looks like.




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