Board OKs new hires to combat class sizes

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education last week approved two new teaching positions to reduce class sizes at Salem and Western elementary schools.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini presented the school board with an enrollment report for the upcoming school year at the Aug. 13 meeting. According to the report, the school district has 44 less students overall than it did during the 2014-15 school year.

However, there are significant increases in kindergarten at Salem Elementary School and fourth grade at Western Elementary School.

According to the report, there were 59 kindergarten students at Salem for two teachers, which is an average class size of almost 30 students. At Western, Montini said, there was two fourth-grade classes with 32 students.

“This enrollment report really portrays an issue in keeping with the board’s philosophy of maintaining reasonable class sizes at the elementary level,” Montini said.

Montini requested the board allow the district to hire two new teachers to reduce the class sizes.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the new hires.

“I know we are always concerned about spending money, but at the same time we are also very concerned about the size of our classes,” Board of Education Chairman David Heller said.

In Salem, the average kindergarten class size was reduced to about 20 students. An additional teacher at Western brings the average fourth grade class size to about 21 students.

“[Those are] much more reasonable class sizes,” Montini said.

According to Montini, the addition of these two teachers will not increase the district’s budget. The district is currently in the process of replacing 30 teachers who retired with new teachers at a lower salary. This is expected to save the district approximately $225,000, Montini said.

Adding the two new positions is expected to cost the district about $125,000, Montini said. The money for the new teachers will be taken from the anticipated savings from the new hires.

“So there will be two new additional positions, but it will not be an increase to the proposed budget,” Montini said.

The board had originally reduced its staff by the equivalent of 21.5 full-time positions in the 2015-16 budget, which is facing a second referendum. The two new positions brings that reduction to 19.5 positions.

Board of Finance member Dan Sheridan, who addressed the school board during public participation, expressed disappointment with the school board’s action.

“I’m a little disappointed with what I heard about adding two teachers. I think, with the budget and referendums coming up, you need to be a little more creative on this line item here,” Sheridan said.

Since enrollment has decreased by 44 students overall, Sheridan contended, the board should be able to find other ways to offset the increases in class size. He pointed out that the three kindergarten class sizes at Andrew Avenue Elementary School are 15, 15 and 16 students. He suggested combining the three classes into two, which would put 23 students in each class, and moving a teacher over to Salem.

Heller said the board relies on recommendations from administrators for the best place to either hire or move teachers.

“Obviously our focus on this board, as opposed to your role on the finance board, is to provide what’s best for the students. We’ve been advised that’s what is best for the students,” Heller said.