Budget restraints lead to tough decisions for Board of Education

By Nicole Michaud - Staff Writer
Windsor Locks - posted Thu., Feb. 10, 2011
Superintendent Wayne Sweeney listens to concerns from Board of Education members. Photos by Nicole Michaud.
Superintendent Wayne Sweeney listens to concerns from Board of Education members. Photos by Nicole Michaud.

Budget concerns for the upcoming school year amid an expected 0-percent cap was the focus of the Windsor Locks Board of Education meeting on Feb. 10.

With the zero-increase restriction, the board will be required to manage a $600,000 deficit while minimally impacting students and staff members. Proposed solutions that were discussed at the meeting included faculty and staff cuts, raising class sizes, or implementing additional fees for extracurricular activities.

Having spent less than two months as the superintendent of Windsor Locks schools, Wayne Sweeney’s focus has not only been on getting to know faculty and staff members, but figuring out how to save their jobs.

According to Sweeney, board members and officials have taken employees into consideration during budget discussions. “We’ve been about saving people’s jobs at all costs,” he said.

Sweeney returned to last week’s budget discussions with detailed information regarding revenue-generating programs, as requested by the board. He presented additional information on implementing a “Pay to Play” fee for school athletics or a student activity fee for school-sponsored extracurricular activities. Sweeney said that he does not want to charge a fee, but as with other districts that have already implemented “Pay to Play” programs, it is “typical during difficult times,” he explained. Sweeney provided information on “Pay to Play” programs at surrounding middle and high schools ranging from $25 to $150 per sport, with caps on multi-sport students or families. Using anticipated enrollment figures, it is expected that the program would generate almost $40,000 in revenue.

While details had yet to be discussed, fees would also take into account students who may require financial assistance – similar to how subsidized lunches work - so as not to be eliminated from participation. In addition to “Pay to Play,” Sweeney also discussed the possibility of implementing fees associated with parking or student activities, including music, student government, dance and cheerleading.

Without creating new areas to generate revenue, the board will look at eliminating staff positions for the 2011-2012 school year, as well as increasing class sizes. Under the expected restrictions, approximately 10 staff members, teachers and paraprofessionals will be affected by the modifications to the budget.

Class sizes may increase by an additional five students, a decision board member Mike Royston was not comfortable supporting. As a coach who experienced firsthand the challenges of managing a large group of young students, he considered the elementary school age the “most important time” to get students focused and on the right track.

Board members appeared to be at a loss for the right decisions in the midst of a tough economic climate. Sweeney discussed how losing even one staff member can impact the community, as he described a trickle-down effect that may lead to those people being unable to pay their mortgage, and perhaps leaving the town for other opportunities. “We may lose a family that contributes to Windsor Locks because of this,” he said.

Sweeney acknowledged that being new to the town and school system makes the review of programs and positions even more difficult. “I’m going to make mistakes because I don’t have the history,” he said. “I don’t want to make an emotional or a numerical decision. I’ll try to make an intellectual decision that will reduce the impact on learning and teaching,” Sweeney said.

Board members agreed it will be almost impossible to propose a budget that comes in less than 2 percent over the existing budget. “We cut to the bare bones last year,” Board Chairperson Pat King stated. “We’re in a desperate situation this year and they have to realize that,” she added.

Sweeney will present a tentative budget to board members for approval prior to providing a proposed budget to the first selectman on Feb. 25.

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