BY ANDREAS YILMA
BEACON FALLS — Region 16 School District voters will have a double referendum on May 2, one for the proposed $43 million school budget and the other for the revised referendum for the capital improvement project of the proposed all-purpose turf field for Woodland Regional High School.
Region 16 school officials April 5 presented the Board of Education’s 2023-24 budget proposal at a school board hearing on April 5 at the regional high school. The spending plan increases Region 16 district budget for schools, consisting of Prospect and Beacon Falls, by $1.3 million, or 3.16% over this fiscal year.
The Board of Education voted to hold a district meeting at Long River Middle School on May 1 at 7 p.m. for the budget. The school board also voted to hold a referendum for the budget on the following day, May 2 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voting will be at the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect firehouse and Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls for school district residents.
The school board also previously voted hold a revised referendum on the same day, time and locations of the referendum on the budget for a capital improvement project of an all purpose turf field at Woodland Regional High School.
project of an all purpose turf field at Woodland Regional High School.
District voters last year approved about $2.3 million for a three-phase capital improvement project that includes installation of a new track around the football field, repairing drainage on the existing field, and renovating the weight room and gymnasium floor.
Since that approval, there has been a public outcry from the sports community, mainly the football community, for a new all-purpose turf field.
Some of the major school budget drivers include teacher salaries and administrative salaries as well as noncertified wages, which collectively increased by $270, 918, electricity expenditures will rise by $145,600, health insurance costs are increasing by about $109,000, natural gas costs rose $89,000 and special education will cost $469,492 more next fiscal year.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said special education had a significant increase of almost 15%, partially attributable to rise in the cost of placements.
The allocation for the two town regional district includes Beacon Falls seeing an increase of $249,261 or 2.33% and Prospect eyeing a hike of $681,921 or 3.18%. There are about 690 Beacon Fall students and 1,259 Prospect students.
Yamin said when school officials first presented the budget on March 8, they were looking at a 2.75% increase. At that point, a school counselor position was initially eliminated until the school board requested to put the position back into the budget on March 29 that moved the budget percentage increase from 2.75% to 2.95%. The school board then asked the administration to put in an additional counselor in the budget on top of the counselor position that was initially removed and put back in which moved the overall budget percentage increase to 3.16%.
Yamin said he would prefer to hold on to adding that additional counselor and just keep the counselor position that was initially eliminated. However school board members and a couple principals felt otherwise.
Board of Education Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella said she’s very much in favor of adding the extra counselor after the needs of students’ mental health was discussed at an educational conference she attended recently.
“They seem to be addressing kids in middle school and high school but they see that there’s an increase (of mental health needs) in the younger kids that they’re not picking up until sometimes third grade,” Cretella said.
“I think socially and emotionally, it’s probably one of the more critical positions we need in the school districts today,” Board of Education Chairman Robert A. Hiscox said. “I fully support the addition of one.”
Two elementary school principals echoed Cretella as there is more of a need to address the mental health of young students.
“We absolutely are seeing some challenges,” Prospect Elementary School Principal Rima McGeehan said.
Laurel Ledge Elementary School Principal Regina Murzak said her school currently has a full-time social worker and a full-time psychologist but it takes away from their roles.
“The school counselors are 504 case managers and we provide class guidance lessons for all of our kids K to 5,” Murzak said.
“Because I don’t have a counselor, my social worker has to do that so that takes days away that she can’t be a social worker.”