Officials target 4.5 percent increase in school spending

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NAUGATUCK — School and borough officials are eyeing a 4.5 percent increase in school spending, which would mean the Board of Education would go forward with a plan to close two schools.

The Board of Education presented its budget to the Finance Board and Board of Mayor and Burgesses during a special meeting of the tri-boards on March 26. The school board’s preliminary budget is $62.3 million, a 9.4 percent increase over the current $57 million budget.

“We realize that the town is not in a position to fund these types of increases and there’s going to have to be some serious reductions,” Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said of the 9.4 percent increase.

Ultimately, a consensus was reached for the school board to come in with about a 4.5 percent increase in spending.

School board members explained that the budget needed to increase by around 4 percent for them to be able to pay all of the contractual obligations. A 4 percent increase would mean Central Avenue School and Prospect Street School would still need to be closed.

“The 4 percent (increase) is the basic contractual increases minus an estimate of $1.2 million for closing both schools,” said James Jordan, the chairman of the Board of Education’s Finance Subcommittee.

Jordan went on to explain that this number does not take into consideration the cost of health care, so it would be likely that the budget would have to increase more than 4 percent to meet the necessary minimum obligations.

Tindall-Gibson explained that these increases are coming now because for the past few years Naugatuck has had grant money to help offset the costs.

The town received a $1.7 million in an education job fund grant, which was spent over two years time. Since the Board of Education had received the funding and eliminated more than 60 positions, it was able to meet its budgetary needs with only a half of a percent increase for the 2010-11 school year.

Now that the funding has run out, the Board of Education needs a way to take care of the gap that now exists.

The school board laid out its entire budget for the Finance Board and Board of Mayor and Burgesses to go over and see what areas could possibly be cut back.

Some of the increases that the Board of Education was looking at in its budget were hiring three full-time and one part-time computer teachers, purchasing tablets for ninth and tenth grade students and three fulltime guidance counselors.

Assistant Superintendent Brigitte Crispino explained that the computer teachers were put into the budget due to the upcoming changes to the standardized tests.

The Connecticut Academic Performance Test and the Connecticut Mastery Test will be phased out during the 2013-14 school year. The following school year students will be introduced to the Smarter Balanced Test and The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Both Smarter Balanced and PARCC will be taken on computers. This requires students to have mastered their typing skills before they take the tests, school officials said.

The Board of Education had $500,000 in its budget for purchasing tablets, such as Apple’s iPad, for freshmen and sophomores.

Tindall-Gibson explained that schools are using more and more online resources and e-textbooks rather than typical, large physical textbooks.

The Finance Board and Board of Mayor and Burgesses asked Tindall-Gibson if he had a plan set out for the tablets. The members of the boards were worried about what would happen if the students lost or broke them, how long the tablets were expected to last and which brand of tablet the school should purchase.

Tindall-Gibson told the boards that he and the Board of Education are also taking those concerns into consideration.

“Those are things we are looking at. Do we have a good plan right now? No. Are we developing a plan? Damn right,” Tindall-Gibson said.

Tindall-Gibson told the boards that school officials wouldn’t move forward on the distribution of the tablets without a plan in place.

“We’re not just going to go out and buy iPads and give them to the kids as they walk through the door,” Tindall-Gibson said.

The boards wondered if it was premature to put the money for the tablets into the budget now before a plan was in place.

Tindall-Gibson felt that it was not premature at all to request the money.

“If we don’t, four years from now we’re going to be asking for $3 million because we have to,” he said.