Essex School Budget Presentation Focuses on Special Education, Mathematics
The Essex Board of Education presented its proposed 2017-’18 budget to the Essex Board of Finance on March 30, which calls for a reduction in spending of $173,814 or 2.28 percent. As the changes to the budget were explained, conversation focused on a commitment to special education services, and upcoming changes to improve mathematics performance. The proposed budget is $7,461,594, lower than the 2016-’17 $7,635,408 budget.
Despite entering the second year of the contractual salary increase, the projected costs are lower in part due to staffing changes at the elementary school.
The town government budget request is $6,849,353, a 2.49 percent increase over last year, bringing the total budget for fiscal year 2017-’18 to $24,078,267, a 1.42 percent increase over the previous year.
Both the Essex Board of Education budget and the town budget will go to a public hearing at a Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, April 20. The meeting will take place in the newly renovated town hall auditorium at 7:30 p.m.
One of the unexpected challenges faced by the district is the continued reduction in enrollment. With a current enrollment of 331 students, Essex Elementary School (EES) anticipates 305 students next year, with 32, possibly 33 kindergarteners enrolled. There are no projections for population size past 2020, though the projections are reexamined yearly, and the board is also aware that currently there is a population bubble going through the Region 4 schools, and the decline is in the range of an expected freefall.
The declining class sized does not affect special education considerations, as students who need services are spread across the school, and services are not administered as one-size-fits-all but rather based on the needs of the individual child. The current numbers under consideration include special education funding needs.
Staffing changes due to lower enrollment include removing an associate principal position. The current associate principal will transition to the position of supervisor of special services, and one currently employed teacher will replace the associate principal as “teacher-in-charge.” This teacher will assume a supervisory position should the principal be out of the building. Additionally, the school will reduce the teaching faculty by two classroom teachers. One classroom teacher will be retiring at the end of the year, while a second classroom teacher who qualifies for the role will assume a new position at the school as math coach.
The math coach will work in-building to assist teachers with issues communicating math skills to students. The decision to add this position came after examining the performance of students on mathematics portions of the SATs across Region 4. While the efforts to improving in reading and writing by adding consultants in these subjects were reflected in the test scores, math performance was not as high. Between that and recent innovations in how math curriculae is taught led to the decision to make a concerted effort to improve as a district in this subject. The other elementary schools have also committed to adding a math coach to their staff.
The school board also discussed a future town capital funds request to make security upgrades to the main office. The goal is to reconfigure the set up so that there would be a double door buzzer system, improved safety glass, and a glass walk up window. This way the school can better control who enters the building. The discussion came as a response to some security issues, but is not a formal request yet. Also on the board’s mind for the future are the need to replace the rubber topcoat on the gym floor and repairs to the front walkway. However, like the security upgrades, these considerations are not a part of the 2017-’18 budget.
While there was a concern that towns would have to contribute to teacher pensions per cuts in Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget, that measure seems to be off the table for the moment.
The budget requests for 2017-’18 for Essex as of March 30 are summarized as follows:
• The Region 4 budget request, of which Essex has a 44.58 percent share, is $8,721,064, a $266,539 or 3.15 percent increase from 2016-’17. This accounts for 36.2 percent of the town budget.
• The EES budget request is $7461,594, a $173,814 or 2.28 percent decrease from last year, and accounts for 31 percent of the town budget. The debt service request totals $1,046,256, a $77,300 or 7.98 percent increase over last year, and accounts for 4.3 percent of the town budget.
• The town government budget request is $6,849,353, a $166,668 or 2.49 percent increase over last year, accounting for 28.4 percent of the budget.
This brings the total budget for fiscal year 2017-’18 to $24,078,267, a $336,693 or 1.42 percent increase over the previous year.
The complete board of education presentation to the Board of Finance can be found online at reg4.k12.ct.us under Budget Information, along with the other four proposed budgets.