School board adopts 2010-11 budget

NAUGATUCK — The school board adopted its 2010-11 budget at a special meeting last Wednesday night, closing what was once a nearly $7 million gap between the borough’s allocation and the school system’s projected expenses.

Moments after the board voted, 6-2, to approve the spending plan, Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson said administration informed 16 borough teachers the following morning that they will not have a job with the district next year.

Overall, the 11-school district is eliminating 55 positions, Tindall-Gibson said. Sixteen teachers of the 98 who were “pink-slipped” in March will be laid off, while 79 will be told their jobs are safe.

Three were signed onto one-year contracts, and Tindall-Gibson said they had “no expectations” of having those contracts renewed.

Twenty-nine of the 33 positions to be vacated by retirees next year will not be filled.

The $56.45 million budget, as voted upon, reflects projected spending consistent with the $300,000 increase awarded last month by the joint boards of mayor and burgesses and finance.

The school board had originally requested an increase of nearly $900,000 from the borough. Denied that amount, it made up nearly $600,000 by cutting back on non-certified employees’ overtime; eliminating staff, including a nursing supervisor, substitutes and homebound tutors; modifying or seeking new bids for its health, property/casualty, workers compensation and life insurance policies; and cutting $15,000 from professional development and another $20,000 from the textbooks line item.

Board Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lewis indicated savings in the textbooks and instructional supplies line items would not carry over into coming years.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Donovan, left, and Vice Chairwoman Barabara Lewis said a subcommittee may have found a way to close the school board's budget gap without closing a school.

Barbara Lewis, right, the chair of the board's finance subcommittee, said the cuts it suggested were sustainable and would carry over into coming years, with the exception of cuts to textbooks and instructional supplies.

“Most of this is not hodgepodge, what we’ve done with our budget,” she said. “Out of all of this, it’s the supply accounts, you know, textbooks and instructional supplies — I mean, textbooks we haven’t been spending anything on — and library media, those types of things, eventually that’s going to catch up with us. But otherwise, all other areas are real cuts.”

On the subject of instructional supplies, Tindall-Gibson added, “[The principals are] okay. I’m not sure they’re going to say they’re okay. You know, it’s tight. And we can’t sustain this level of funding; that’s for sure.”

The school board spent $505,000 in 2006-07 and $554,000 in 2007-08 on instructional supplies; it tapped the account for nearly 40 percent less in the 2008-09 fiscal year, to the tune of $340,000. $350,000 is budgeted for the current year, and the account will be funded at $343,000 next year.

Tindall-Gibson said he hadn’t heard any complaints from teachers or principals who have run out of supplies, but said he knew of some schools that had traded and shared supplies.

“Nobody has said to me, you know, ‘We don’t have lined paper,’” Crispino added. “Nobody has said ‘We don’t have pencils.’”

And Naugatuck’s is not the only school system cutting back on textbook spending, she said; many districts are awaiting the emergence of new state and federal rules before adopting any new texts.

Member Rocky Vitale questioned whether savings in insurance would also prove temporary, saying, “These are not real, permanent cuts that will carry through to next year. We need to look at this as a two-year budget. I’d rather eliminate 10 percent more than needed this year and cut 10 percent less next year.”

Lewis said the savings in insurance would carry over even if the costs trend upward slightly in coming years.

The board talked at length about cutting the nurse’s supervisory position. Tindall-Gibson recommended keeping the position and cutting deeper into the supplies account to make up for it, saying, “There is a lot to be done supervising the nurses, and the reason I say that is because I tried to do it the first year I was here, and no one else wanted to it. There’s just a lot of decisions to be made, a lot of supplies to be ordered, and I don’t have that kind of expertise. … All you need is one nurse in one school to give one kid the wrong medication, and you’ve got a major problem.”

The nurse’s supervisor, he said, is responsible for ordering supplies, subbing for absent nurses—which saves in the nurse’s subs account — and overseeing the nursing staff district-wide.

Lewis, who chairs the board’s finance subcommittee, said the district simply can’t afford the $45,000 position next year.

In the end, the board voted to cut the position but award an additional $5,000 stipend to a nurse willing to take on a supervisory role, saving a net sum of $40,000.

“I think [the stipend] should be equivalent to whatever a department head [makes],” she added, “something that’s attractive enough that someone would want that position. I don’t know what that would take.”

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Donovan said she was satisfied with the final budget given the constraints of the borough’s allocation.

“I think we’ve done what we were asked to do,” she said. “We’ve gotten down to the number the town gave us. And that’s all we could have done.”