Superintendent holds monthly coffee chats

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Mar. 11, 2013
Griswold Superintendent of Schools Paul Smith converses with parents about the proposed 2013-14 school budget. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.
Griswold Superintendent of Schools Paul Smith converses with parents about the proposed 2013-14 school budget. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

The door is open and the coffee is on once a month at the office of the Griswold superintendent of schools, as Superintendent Paul Smith waits to talk to parents who stop by after dropping their kids off at school. Last Wednesday morning, there were only three people in the first coffee and chat session. Smith had summaries of the proposed 2013-14 school budget available, and together they paged through the projected changes, which translate to a $482,003 increase over last year, a 1.95-percent increase in funding.

The group talked about how new technology – specifically, notebook-sized computers – may someday have a positive effect on school costs, replacing expensive, heavy textbooks and enabling teachers to instantly evaluate student understanding of material without grading tests.

Smith holds two chat sessions on the first Wednesday of every month, at 7:30 and 8:45 a.m. The times are synched to the times students are dropped off at the high school and elementary school, he said. “Each month I e-mail the agenda to every family,” he said. “There may be as many as 12 people or as few as two.” The goal, said Smith, is transparency and accountability. “I want people to feel they have access to the superintendent,” he said.

This year’s budget proposal, which incorporates input gleaned at meetings and a Feb. 4 public hearing from parents, teachers, town residents, students and staff, includes $100,000 for seven sections of a full-day kindergarten program. It also reinstates a part-time music teaching position at the middle school that was trimmed from last year’s budget.

The district faces a $390,000 increase in health insurance and a $160,000 increase in special education tuition, both of which are higher than normal increases, said Smith. “I’ve done my absolute best to hold onto personnel. The best value for the dollar is keeping class sizes small,” he said. The freshman sports program at Griswold High School will be restored for one year, using $9,000 in athletic proceeds that do not come from town funds. Also outside town funding is a reading interventionist position at the middle school, but the $25,000 grant that should fund this position is jeopardized by federal budget sequestration, Smith said.

A total of $35,000 is allocated for new textbooks in geometry and freshman English in the proposed budget. Smith said that notebook computers like the iPad may eventually spell the end of line items like this, once manufacturers develop a model inexpensive enough for schools to buy in bulk. Students could access their textbooks online and easily transport them wherever they go throughout the day, eliminating the need for heavy backpacks and frequent purchases of updated books. In addition, students could use notebooks to respond to questions in class and their teacher could monitor their responses in a glance.

The proposed school budget will be presented to the Board of Finance March 19, at 7 p.m., in Town Hall. A public hearing on the budget will take place April 2, at 7 p.m., in the Griswold Middle School cafeteria.

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