School chief proposes $40.2M budget

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Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James, left, presents his proposed $40.2 million budget for 2014-15 Feb. 26 at Long River Middle School in Prospect as Board of Education member Sheryl Feducia looks over the spending plan. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James, left, presents his proposed $40.2 million budget for 2014-15 Feb. 26 at Long River Middle School in Prospect as Board of Education member Sheryl Feducia looks over the spending plan. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

REGION 16 — The Board of Education’s budget season began Feb. 26 as Superintendent of Schools Tim James presented his spending proposal for the 2014-15 school year.

James presented a proposed $40.2 million budget for Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect. The proposal represents an increase of $1,715,810 or 4.46 percent over the current budget.

“I have been in public education for 43 years and a superintendent in Connecticut for 25 of those years,” said James as he presented his spending plan to the school board. “I have prepared numerous budgets, defended the expenditures at countless meetings and public hearings, and can say one thing with surety. In every district I have served, the budget reductions have varied by town and economic climates, but one thing has remained constant. Regardless of the depth of the budget reductions, the elimination of teaching and support staff positions, instructional resources, dollars to support maintenance and technology, and the list goes on and on, the community members do not proportionally lessen their expectations that the school system sustain its high standing and excellent reputation and assure students are high achievers. We owe it to our students to set forth a responsible budget that triggers academic growth and achievement.”

Administrators in the district presented their requests to James and Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini late last year. James said the total requests would have increased the budget by 6.7 percent. He pared down the requests by about $863,000 to reach the plan presented last week.

James said increases in fixed costs alone — such as contractual obligations, debt service for construction of the new Prospect Elementary School and transportation costs — equate to a 3.97 percent budget increase.

While most of the proposed increase is due to fixed costs, the plan includes a handful of new positions and initiatives.

The budget would restore the culinary arts program at Woodland Regional High School to a full-time program and a .5 music teacher would be added at the school as well. At Long River Middle School, a .5 teacher would be added in music, art and world language. Two cafeteria aides would also be added at Laurel Ledge Elementary School.

James said in the past the board has not allocated money specifically for curriculum improvements. His plan includes several new curriculum initiatives. 

Among the initiatives are Read 180 and Math 180, programs that will focus on improving reading and math achievement respectively at Long River Middle School. The proposal would also implement a phonics program for students in grades kindergarten to second.

James said administrators worked to find ways, such as grants, to pay for the programs with the least financial impact on the budget. The Read 180 program, which costs $48,000, will cost the district $8,800, he said. The Math 180 initiative will have no cost to the district for the 2014-15 school year, he said.

The board did not delve into the details of the budget last week. The board will review the budget during workshops in the weeks ahead to finalize its proposal to be presented at a district meeting in May. Ultimately, the voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect will have to approve the budget.

The school board is currently conducting a survey to gather comments, ideas and responses to key questions regarding the budget. The survey is available through the district’s website, www.region16ct.org, by clicking on the “Region 16 Budget Survey” link on the homepage. The survey closes at 1 p.m. on March 12.

Former board member Robin Wright urged the board last week not to make any further reductions or cuts on top of the reductions already made by James.

“I think we need to get the spending level back to where it needs to be for the children and for the buildings and for the staff,” she said.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Do you feel your children are $30MILLION more intelligent in 2015 than they were in 1990?
    I know I don’t. I had children in the system then, and I do now.
    That’s how much the education budget has increased since then.

    Every year we here the same line of crud, oh its ONLY 3 or 4 percent.
    Fact is the Education budget in 1990 was $11,916,993.
    This budget now being proposed for 2015 is $40,200,000.

    The budget when the high school opened in 2001 was $23,114,052.
    Now its almost TWICE as much, are your children getting twice the benefits of education?
    Are they twice as smart?

  2. As a follow-up to my posting yesterday strongly suggesting that the BOE look at moving towards a new Region design, I am posting this to discuss some of the things that I have been literally chased out of BOE meetings by irate parents not able to accept that there may be an alternate side to what we are being told by the BOE.

    As stated in my prior post, others including myself have seen reports in papers and on various sites indicating that the money we are spending is not translating into an education process that allows children to succeed going forward after leaving the Region. One such site (http://www.schooldigger.com/go/CT/schoolrank.aspx) cites numbers of state rankings that while show improvements in some areas, show very questionable issues / holes in what the BOE is selling the parents. Boiled down here are some of the numbers.

    CT Elementary School Rankings 3rd & 4th Grades Combined CMT Mathematics & CMT Reading 2012-2013
    Laurel Ledge ranks 299 out of 514. Rank change from 2012 = down 43

    The other elementary schools in our Region do not even show a ranking because their math and reading scores were not current.

    CT Middle School Rankings 7th & 8th Grades Combined CMT Mathematics & CMT Reading 2012-2013
    Long River Middle ranks 95 out of 266. Rank change from 2012 = up 6

    CT High School Rankings 10th Grade CAPT Mathematics & CAPT Reading Across the Disciplines 2012-2013
    Woodland Ranks 77 out of 194. Rank change from 2012 = up 19

    Region 16 as a whole ranks 91 out of 164 districts

    Given that we hear nothing but great things from the BOE, I find these numbers are just disturbing. How are these numbers great?? So the BOE’s next argument will be spend more equals better results. But they have been increasing the budget every year, is there actual tangible benefits as many of us have asked the BOE for years and been (quite honestly) rudely chased out of meetings for??

    From a February 23, 2014 article from the Windsor Patch – 16 CT School Districts with Lowest Per Pupil Spending
    (from most to least)
    16 Shelton – ranked 59 0f 164 districts
    15 Meriden – ranked 146 of 164 districts
    14 Hebron – ranked 50 of 164 districts
    13 Tolland – ranked 30 of 164 districts
    12 New Milford
    11 East Hartford – ranked 151 of 164 districts
    10 West Haven – ranked 142 of 164 districts
    9 RHAM
    8 Danbury – ranked 134 of 164 districts
    7 Woodstock – ranked 82 of 164 districts
    6 New Britain – ranked 159 of 164 districts
    5 Sterling –ranked 107 of 164 districts
    4 Ansonia – ranked 150 of 164 districts
    3 Wolcott – ranked 54 of 164 districts
    2 Marlborough – ranked 45 of 164 districts
    1 Ellington – ranked 61 of 164 districts

    Region 16 ranked 91 of 164 districts. How can this be?? How can the BOE honestly say we are improving when 7 out of the 16 lowest spending districts rank better than us with another 2 just barely better than us??? No matter if you use the old math we were taught going to school or the new they are teaching, we are no better than ½ of the worst spending districts.

    Yes there have been improvements as I honestly showed in rank changes in Long River and Woodland and there will be those that say with the new Prospect Elementary school there will be improvement there. Ok – believe it or not at your own risk and will take time for those numbers to become apparent. But to be honest with all the money being spent, I would think you can honestly expect to see similar number improvement with Long River as with Woodland. So I am honestly not impressed with Long River increase and in my opinion at best call it even.

    BUT what happened to Laurel Ledge?? Down 43 in 1 year?? BOE what is the reasoning that you want us to believe for the bottom falling out of that box?? But then again what can you expect from a school that marks a child wrong for correct math answers just because the process used is different from what is considered “newly approved” from what we were taught when we were kids (and been successful in using for all these years) even though in conversations with district officials they want multiple methods taught and was told that what is happening to my child is wrong and not district policy.

    I have huge concerns with what I and many people see a continuing process of throwing money at a process with no solid numbers that jump out at you showing that they are indeed on a process and should be allowed to continue as they have. The fact is that if independent and honestly researched, the numbers show breakeven / bare minimum improvement at best, startling issues at worst.

  3. If we forget the huge area of concern (and huge push right now by many to reverse) called Common Core for many including a high number of parents, many educators, teachers, elected officials, etc and just focus on what the BOE Is proposing, there are issues. I would be more than happy to discuss Common Core and what can be easily viewed as a flawed process another time.

    Many of us believe Region 16 has been ran wrongly for many many years calling out for studies and other information to validate that the money they keep throwing into the education process is actually delivering what they say it is but have been ignored. Many of us have brought outside study information from newspapers, etc to many of these meetings literally begging for the BOE to disprove some of the information we were presenting questioning the overall health of the education process. Most if not all of these pleadings have been ignored.

    Now we have another round of increases not even associated with the yearly budget. This is on top of the last “project” mostly for the benefit of Prospect that is already in trouble budget wise. We have roof problems on the high school because no one was watching and doing their job. Boiler issues that should had been in the original “Prospect Project” that weren’t included that the Region somehow seemed to be able to find the money after there were huge complaints, etc, etc, etc. And in all honesty, this security project should had been included also. The list never seems to end and many people feel it is done this way to hide the actual figures by “piece mealing” everything so people don’t or can’t see the final costs and start asking honest and viable questions.

    While lately Beacon Falls has been able to “just say no” to some of the last round of budgetary issues brought forth by the BOE and the Region, the consensus seems to be that the extreme majority of Beacon Falls residents feel that we are at Prospects whim and have been for years. This is no news flash.

    Because of this and having very good information on how another Region runs their schools, I have been talking to everyone that can hear me that I believe we should scrap our current Region configuration and move towards how Region 9 operates.

    While nothing is perfect and all Region / normal school systems have problems, the benefits of Region 9 is so simple it can’t be ignored. For those that are not familiar with it, it can be broken down rather simple. Easton and Redding have basically 2 SEPARATE BOEs for each town. One is for the non-region / town specific schools and the second is for the Region. They keep the benefits or buying power of being in a Region which is what CT wants but the individual towns can pick and choose what projects they want to do together (for better cost effectiveness / buying power) and those they don’t want to be a part of.

    How this translates is really simple. Anything work done on a non-shared / Region school is the responsibility of that town. Prospect wants a new elementary school – let them do it / doesn’t impact Beacon Falls tax payers. Conversely Beacon Falls wants a new boiler, a new roof or enclose Laurel Ledge, Prospect has nothing to do with.

    Yes there would be issues related to the teacher unions, curriculum development, busing etc in making this switch that needs to be seriously looked into. But that doesn’t mean that a detailed study by the individual towns governments and BOE shouldn’t be done to see if this actually could/would be a true benefit to both towns.

  4. A very difficult year indeed, especially coming on the heals of last years Education budget where a $462k increase was granted and when the dust settled the BOE had $775k left in the coffers. Now the preliminary number for the increase, never a decrease or hold steady amount, is a whopping $1.7 MILLION!!
    Oh, also we have to pay for the high school roof AND security upgrades AND the new Prospect (slap Beacon falls in the face again) Elementary School.

  5. This is going to be a very tough budget year. On top of the budget discussed here, there is bonding for the security improvements that will be going to a separate referendum on April 10th. Somewhere, sometime the Region needs to present the complete cost impact of both items and not treat them as separate items. Since the budget is not available for public consumption at this time, I would assume that there are associated on-going operational costs in the budget for security that are a cross dependency to the security project. If the security referendum fails, what if any changes will be needed in the operational budget?

    Speaking to April 10th, I am not sure how we can vote no to the Security Plan because of what it represents. But its passage will have an impact on what increase or cut will be necessary to the operational budget. Taxpayers in Beacon Falls are looking at its own referendum for a firetruck and waste-water treatment plant upgrades within the next fiscal year. Add to that a long overdue roads program.

    This will be a very difficult year for budget discussion for Region 16 & the Town(s). Both need to be prepared to make difficult decisions and reduce the impact to the taxpayer in other areas of their programs if the expectation is that we will support these new initiatives.