No numbers yet, but school officials set budget priorities
A few new hires, wireless network upgrades and new vehicles are some of the expenses the New Canaan public school district will request as plans for the 2015-16 budget get underway.
The Board of Education budget workshop Monday night offered a glimpse of what's to come as the town's most anticipated budget takes shape. Unlike similar workshops in past years, school officials did not present any preliminary budget numbers or proposed increases for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2015.
"Our goal tonight is not to look at the numbers," Board of Education Chairman Hazel Hobbs said as she kicked off the approximately four-hour meeting at New Canaan High School. "Instead, it is to review our goals and objectives, discuss our budget priorities and proposed actions and provide feedback to the administration that will be helpful as we continue to build our budget book in the next weeks."
A key factor driving the district's budget-setting process is enrollment, especially at Saxe Middle School. Other factors cited at the meeting are mobile technology initiatives at the middle school, health insurance costs, capital maintenance and improvements, heating and electricity, transportation, special education, network upgrades at the elementary schools and swimming pool rental.
The district started this academic year with the second-highest enrollment in its history, 4,203 students as of Oct. 1. Enrollment at Saxe, already at or over capacity, is expected to climb even more in the next few years, even though it went down slightly this year.
Principal Greg Macedo said he needs two new teachers and more classrooms. "The campus is crowded and we are now out of space," he said.
Saxe has 1,292 students, the most in the district, and projections are for an increase of 43 students next year. Macedo has been able to mitigate the enrollment rise by repurposing two computer labs into classrooms. In addition, he has moved teachers to different grades to address the influx of students.
"It destabilizes the staff to having to teach a different grade year after year, but we do it when we have to," he said.
As the seventh-grade class is expected to see the biggest increase next year, however, Macedo will no longer be able to rely on that maneuver. In Connecticut, he told the board, teachers are licensed to teach kindergarten though sixth grade or seventh though 12th grades.
The first official presentation of the Board of Education's proposed budget is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 5. A formal presentation to the Board of Selectmen will take place in late January.
The board's operating expenses account for almost 60 percent of the town's overall budget. In the current fiscal year, 2014-15, the schools' operating budget is $80,870,558. Two-thirds of that number, or $53.3 million, is spent on salaries.
Superintendent of Schools Bryan Luizzi said the education budget is different than those of other departments because it gives the district an "opportunity to reflect" on its mission, values and beliefs.
"When you look beyond the numbers in a board of education budget, it serves as a planning document," he said. "It's much more than just the bottom-line figures."
When it comes to new hires, Assistant Superintendent of Pupil and Family Services Darlene Pianka said she'll be seeking to hire a part-time student support assistant to help the district comply with new mandates and West Elementary School Principal Jan Murphy said she'll be asking for a part-time writing teacher.
In the 2015-16 school year, at least three vehicles will are expected to be replaced. According to the district's special education vehicle replacement schedule, two Ford Excursion vehicles from 2002 and 2003 as well as a 2004 Ford Explorer are expected to be replaced by new ones.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jill Correnty said she'll be proposing a six-day rotation schedule for the middle school in order for consistency of programs and efficiency of staff at that level, but it wasn't clear how that change would affect the budget.
Athletics Director Jay Egan said he would request about $80,000 to rent a swimming pool for a year. Students who use the New Canaan YMCA pool might be displaced during that facility's renovation project.
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