Region 16 board OKs $40.9M budget proposal

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

BEACON FALLS — The Region 16 Board of Education on March 31 approved a $40.9 million budget proposal to send to voters, who will have the final say on the spending plan in May.

The 2021-22 school budget proposal increases overall spending for the region, which is composed of Beacon Falls and Prospect, by $253,657, or about 0.6%. The board approved sending the budget to a vote by “a show of hands” at a district meeting on May 3 at 7 p.m. at Long River Middle School in Prospect.

“We’ve tried to keep our budget aligned to what we believe is important, which is quality education and safe and well-maintained schools,” said Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin during a hearing March 31 at Woodland Regional High School.

The board approved the budget proposal, 7-0 with member Robert Dyer abstaining, after restoring the personal learning adviser position at Woodland to full time in the budget. Keeping the position full time costs an additional $50,000.

The position oversees an internship program for Woodland students, among other duties. The position started as a part-time job five years ago. The budget proposal cut the job back to part time.

Of the four members of the public who addressed the board during the hearing, two urged the board to keep the position full time.

“It’s a disservice to the children to have someone part time in that job,” said Dino Verrelli, a Beacon Falls resident and founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Project Purple.

Verrelli, who has two children who attend Woodland, said he had students from Woodland who interned at Project Purple. He said the students helped the organization and did “real work.”

John Setaro, who graduated from Woodland in 2020, did an internship through the program with the help of Jim Staib, who is the personal learning adviser. He said he was able to get a hold of Staib at any time during the school day. Making the position part time, he said, would make that more difficult for students.

Nearly 60 students did an internship in the 2019-20 school year, according to school officials. About 45 had an internship through the program in the 2018-19 school year.

The consensus among board members was to keep the position full time and re-evaluate it.

Chairman Priscilla Cretella said it would be beneficial to students if the job is kept full time. She added this is probably not the best year to judge the position because the internship program didn’t run due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think this is not the time to cut it,” Cretella said.

Dyer asked for information about what the job entails. He said it seems that some functions of the position overlap with other jobs.

Keeping the personal learning adviser full time marked the second time school officials restored a position slated to be cut. School officials previously restored a school counselor position that was originally proposed to be cut in the budget.

The spending plan still cuts or reduces 10 positions across the district as enrollment declines. Overall enrollment is projected to drop to 1,952 next school year. In 2010, there were 2,484 students in the region.

The cuts include the assistant principal position at Long River Middle School. The plan for Long River is to have a teaching vice principal at the middle school — a teacher with administrative certification — fill in and assist the principal when needed.

The budget also cuts seven teaching positions and an instructional aide, and changes one certified substitute to a noncertified substitute position.

The proposed budget would have a significantly different financial impact on Beacon Falls and Prospect.

The net education cost is divided between Beacon Falls and Prospect based on the percentage of students from each town. The percentage of Prospect students has increased 1.75 points to 65%, which shifted more of the net cost onto the town.

Based on the student population ratio and estimated revenues, Prospect’s net education cost is projected to increase $854,424 to about $21.4 million. Beacon Falls’ net cost is projected to decrease $622,234 to about $10.2 million.