Region 16 board sends school budget to vote

REGION 16 — Although spending in Region 16 is going down under the 2018-19 proposed budget, one of the school district’s member towns will see its cost go up.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, last week approved sending a roughly $40.73 budget proposal to a vote in May. The proposal decreases spending by $205,880, or 0.5 percent, over the current budget.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin described the spending plan as a “responsible budget” that meets the needs of students during a public hearing April 11.

The net education costs — the share of the education expenses paid through local taxes — don’t reflect the nearly $206,000 decrease. Based on current revenue projections, Beacon Falls’ net cost will go up $240,019, or 2.14 percent, under the budget proposal. Prospect’s net cost is going down $808.

A loss of revenue, including state aid, is the main culprit for the net cost going up in Beacon Falls and Prospect’s only dropping slightly. Yamin said Beacon Falls is estimated to receive about $180,000 less in state education aid alone.

A shift in the student population also played a role in the towns’ net education costs.

The net education cost is divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect based on the average daily membership ratio of students. The percentage of Beacon Falls students increased to 38.94 percent from 38.875, while Prospect’s percentage reflected an equal reduction. The sway put a little more of the net cost onto Beacon Falls.

Despite reducing spending, Yamin said the budget doesn’t short staff and students and provides the highest quality of education.

The budget proposal adds a full-time elementary science teacher, a full-time math interventionist, two full-time instructional aides for kindergarten, a full-time cafeteria aide and a part-time guidance counselor.

The spending plan also includes about $101,000 for armed security guards — four part-time and one full-time.

The budget proposal eliminates a part-time French teacher position and reduces the assistant director of special education position from a 12-month position to a 10-month one.

The spending plan continues to invest in curriculum revision, Yamin said, and will expand the district’s one-to-one initiative to all students in grades sixth through 12.

The one-to-one initiative provides Chromebooks to students to use. Middle school students return the Chromebooks at the end of the school year. Freshmen receive a new Chromebook that they keep through high school and after graduation.

“We’re growing as a region but we’re being fiscally responsible when we’re doing it,” Yamin said.

The armed guard plan has proved to be the most controversial aspect on the budget proposal.

Yamin originally proposed hiring four part-time armed guards and reallocating one of the three full-time unarmed guard positions at Woodland Regional High School to provide armed security for each school every school day. One of the guards at Woodland would be allowed to carry a gun under state law. The school board opted to leave the three full-time positions at Woodland and add another full-time position to the budget proposal.

State law passed after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012 requires armed personnel on school grounds to be either police officers that retired in good standing or active police officers. They must also complete yearly training, under the law.

School officials plan to work with the Prospect and Beacon Falls police departments to hire the guards and develop a policy for them.

The armed guard proposal has garnered support and opposition from members of the public. At last week’s lightly-attended public hearing, the plan was touched on by the three people who addressed to the board.

Beacon Falls resident Paul Cummings, who has been an outspoken critic of the plan, reiterated his concerns to the board that armed guards don’t deter potential shooters and are a risk due to the possibility of accidental discharges of the guns.

“A vote to approve this budget is a vote to bring guns into our schools,” said Cummings, who questioned whether the plan is a fearful reaction to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. in February.

Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella the school board at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting entertained the thought of having armed guards but didn’t move forward with it.

Security improvements have been made since the Sandy Hook shooting, and seven of the board’s eight current members have expressed support for armed guards.

“The climate of our culture right now, we seriously feel this is the next step,” she said.

The voters will have the final say on the budget proposal.

A district meeting to vote on the budget is set for May 7 at 7 p.m. at Woodland Regional High School. The vote will be by paper ballot. The vote could be forced to a referendum through petitions. No one had started a petition as of Monday, according to the town clerks in both towns.