By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
PROSPECT — The latest proposed school budget for Region 16 restores a counselor position previously slated to be cut, but still eliminates the assistant principal job at Long River Middle School.
The $40.9 million 2021-22 budget proposal increases overall spending for the region, which is composed of Beacon Falls and Prospect, by $203,656, or 0.5%.
The board will hold a hearing on the budget in-person on March 31 at 7 p.m. at Woodland Regional High School. The board will adopt a budget after the hearing to send to a public vote.
Proposed staff cuts and reductions due to declining enrollment have been a point of contention since Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin presented his first budget proposal to the board in February. At the time, the proposed changes included cutting a counselor position as well as the Long River assistant principal — two cuts that immediately elicited concerns and questions from the public and some board members.
Board members and the public raised concerns about cutting a counselor, as students may need additional social and emotional services due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vice Chairman Robert Hiscox said during the board’s March 24 meeting that the board heard what parents had to say and restored the position.
“I think it’s a good move for the community,” he said.
Hiscox said he believes the middle school can manage without an assistant principal with the available school staff. He said the board can always review and revisit the decision during the school year.
The Long River assistant principal position is held by Michelle Meyers, who would be laid off under the plan. The position was reduced this fiscal year from a 12-month position to a 10-month job that didn’t include the summer months.
“I’m still concerned about that, too,” said board member Christine Arnold about cutting the assistant principal position.
Arnold, who previously raised concerns that cutting the position would put more of a burden on the principal, said she’s heard from members of the public who are against cutting the assistant principal.
The proposal for next school year 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 teacher would be paid a stipend for the job. The school also has two counselors, one social worker and one psychologist available to work with students.
Yamin has attributed the plan to cut the middle school assistant principal to declining enrollment. There are 492 middle school students this year, and that number is expected to fall to 459 next school year.
Multiple middle schools in the state that serve students in grades six through eight with similar enrollment to Long River have a principal and assistant principal, according to the schools’ websites. Locally, the schools include Tyrrell Middle School in Wolcott, Oxford Middle School, Seymour Middle School, and Memorial Middle School and Rochambeau Middle School in Region 15, which is composed of Middlebury and Southbury.
According to figures from 2018-19, the latest data available on the state Department of Education’s website, enrollment at the five local middle schools ranged from 429 at Rochambeau Middle School to 552 students at Tyrrell Middle School.
“There’s always concerns with cuts,” Yamin said during the March 24 meeting. “I’m just proposing what I think works best.”
Overall, the proposed staff cuts and reductions amount to $689,113, including $131,737 for the assistant principal.
The changes also include reducing the personal learning advisor job at Woodland Regional High School from full time to part time. The position oversees the school’s internship program, which will remain intact. The position started as a part-time job but took on additional roles in the guidance department and was increased to full time.
The proposal also cuts seven teaching positions throughout the district. As of last week, Yamin said only one would result in someone being laid off. The others either are vacant now or won’t be filled after teachers retire this year.
The spending plan’s impact on Beacon Falls and Prospect differs greatly.
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 increased 1.75 points to 65%, which shifted more of the burden on the town.
Based on the student population ratio and estimated revenues, Prospect’s net education cost is projected to increase $821,927, or 4%, to $21.3 million. Beacon Falls’ net cost is projected to decrease $639,734, or 5.91%, to $10.1 million.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of teaching positions the proposed budget would cut.