School budget increase of 4.33 percent proposed

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Jan. 4, 2013
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alan Bookman said healthcare costs and salaries are the chief reasons for the proposed increase in the school district budget. Photos by Steve Smith.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alan Bookman said healthcare costs and salaries are the chief reasons for the proposed increase in the school district budget. Photos by Steve Smith.

Citing healthcare costs, unfunded mandates and strategic planning for 21st-century learning as the main drivers, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alan Bookman presented a spending plan for Glastonbury schools of $94.8 million – an increase of 4.33 percent over the current year.

Bookman's presentation kicked off the three-day education budget workshop at Glastonbury High School on Jan. 2. He said wage increases account for 1.9 percent of that increase, despite the recommendation of two fewer teaching positions. Enrollment projections indicate those two positions can be cut from the elementary level, while no change in staffing is recommended for the middle or high schools. He cautioned that enrollment numbers typically change between January and the start of the next school year, so there could be other changes. Health benefits, Bookman said, are projected to increase 7.15 percent, but will likely also change before the budget is finalized.

“These projections are based on a four-year average,” he said. “We've seen something unusual – low birth rates and a low number of students moving in and out of Glastonbury.”

Unfunded mandates will add about $200,000 to the budget (or .2 percent). Bookman said the district is working hard to meet the common core state standards in the areas of professional and curriculum. “In addition to that, education reform has required a completely new method for staff evaluation, which we are developing now,” he said. “It will also cost us some money to do that particular plan.”

Other expenses include a $400,000 increase for supplies to make up for the account that was frozen in the middle of the last year. Utilities are expected to remain nearly flat, and the plan calls for six buses per year, up from four, to save maintenance costs long-term.

The schools' technology plan is highlighted by the iPad initiative at the high school, and would add .32 percent to the budget. Bookman said the research shows that schools that have implemented tablets have fewer disciplinary issues, higher test scores, and lower drop-out rates. The replacement cost of technology in the schools (computers, etc.) would be nearly the same over a two-year period with or without the tablet initiative, since the need for textbooks would be lower, and fewer computers would need to be updated. Bookman added that the cost of the tablet program over a seven-year projection will be about $72,000 per year over the current technology replacement schedule.

Town Council Chairman Chip Beckett was the first to speak at the public comment portion of the meeting. He said concerns are that the state budget has indicated that funding to municipalities may decrease and that the state budget will not be known until after the town's budget is passed.

“I urge the Board of Education to carefully consider the impact of  any long-range programs, in light of the fiscal challenges that may arise over the next eight to 10 months,” Beckett said, further asking for contingency plans from the board, should deep cuts be made to the town.

Lorraine Marchetti, the Town Council's vice chair, said she was speaking for most council members when she reiterated Beckett's charge for the board to take into account “the town-wide revaluation, the town's pension shortfall, and the state's fiscal realities.”

Resident Eileen Bartley urged the board to consider that property values have fallen, and reminded the board that last year's budget was cut to a 2-percent increase because it was not affordable as proposed.

“A zero-increase budget is achievable,” Bartley said, citing that enrollment has declined overall, and that student-to-teacher ratios are low and can therefore be increased. She also called for the removal of full-day kindergarten and the outsourcing of non-teaching positions.

Bookman said there are factors that determine class sizes other than ratios, and that administrators visit classrooms before deciding on the needs. “We're not that huge that we just take two numbers and divide one number into another number,” he said. “We want to know what is the makeup of that class, and how many students need extra special attention.”

Board of Education Chair Susan Karp defended the kindergarten program. “When we contemplated implementing full-day kindergarten for this current school year... our assistant superintendent looked at all the studies that were available. We wanted input from everyone who would impact those students,” she said, adding that teachers have recently indicated positive impact on students so far this year.

The Board of Education's budget workshop was scheduled to continue Jan. 3 and 7, and they were expected to finalize their budget at a meeting on Jan. 9.

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