By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
PROSPECT — Proposed staff cuts dominated the initial budget discussions on Region 16’s spending plan for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin on Feb. 24 presented a $41 million budget proposal for 2021-22 to the Board of Education. The proposal would increase overall school spending for the region, which is composed of Beacon Falls and Prospect, by $305,905, or 0.75% over this fiscal year. It would mark the first increase in overall school spending since the 2017-18 fiscal year.
The proposal includes about $763,000 worth of staff reductions through layoffs and a couple retirements. The plan cuts the assistant principal position at Long River Middle School, six teachers, one guidance counselor and one instructional aide. One certified substitute position would be reduced to a non-certified position.
Two of the teaching positions would be eliminated through attrition, according to the proposal. The plan also accounts for some savings when replacing another retiring teacher with a younger teacher who would make less money.
“I don’t take reductions lightly,” Yamin said about the proposed staff changes.
Yamin said the cuts are the result of reallocating funds to meet the needs of students differently and also being fiscally responsible. He said the recommended changes won’t affect programs in the region, and class sizes would remain in line with board recommendations.
The suggested staff changes come as enrollment in the district continues to decrease. Enrollment has decreased about 20% since 2010 to 1,987 students this school year. The number of students is projected to drop to 1,952 next school year.
Board members and the public questioned cutting staff — especially teachers and a guidance counselor — when students will hopefully be returning to school full time on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and may need the extra support.
Board member Robert Dyer said the plan bases class sizes on conventional thinking on learning. He said students returning to school after a pandemic may come in with increased needs for support.
Members of the public raised concerns about cutting a guidance counselor as students may need additional mental and emotional services due to the impact of the pandemic.
Yamin said officials will continuously evaluate staffing needs. If students need more support, he said, positions like specialized interventionists could be added before or early in the school year.
The region has nine guidance counselors, four social workers and four school psychologists this year, Yamin said. The social and emotional needs of students are addressed through the overall culture and programs in the district, he said, not just one position.
“I think this is the appropriate staff level at this time,” he said.
Board member Christine Arnold questioned cutting the middle school assistant principal position. She said doing so would put a lot of responsibility on the principal.
“I think it’s a lot for one administrator,” she said.
Michelle Meyers is the assistant principal at Long River. Derek Muharem is the school’s principal.
Yamin said enrollment at the middle school is dropping. There are 492 middle school students this year and that number is expected to fall to 459 next school year. He said schools with less than 500 students typically only have one administrator.
The proposed budget would impact Beacon Falls and Prospect differently.
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 cost is projected to increase $888,389, or 4.3%, to $21.4 million. Beacon Falls’ net cost is projected to decrease $603,947, or 5.5%, to $10.2 million.
The proposal is the school board’s starting point for the budget. The board will review the plan and can make changes. A hearing on the budget is set for April 7.