Subcommittee says Salem School not at risk

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NAUGATUCK — It appears Salem Elementary School will be saved from the chopping block along with several teaching positions in next year’s school budget.

The finance subcommittee of the Board of Education believes it can find enough savings to avoid having to eliminate the historic Salem School, or enact a plan that would eliminate 24 teaching positions, including nine reading consultants. Closing Salem and laying off teachers had been discussed as ways to save money.

The full board still has to vote on the subcommittee’s plan, which it endorsed on Tuesday. Subcommittee members are hopeful this plan will avoid teaching cuts that they say would be devastating to the district.

“I’m thrilled,” said subcommittee member David M. Heller, board secretary. “It’s great news and hopefully it will happen.”

The full board is expected to meet next week to vote on the finance subcommittee’s recommendation. The board must find about $600,000 in savings before next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. The board’s $56.4 million budget for next year — an increase of $300,000 over this year’s budget — would be $599,040 short of projected expenses.

Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson and Wayne McAllister, borough controller and interim school business manager, have looked at every budget item and renegotiated contracts to find savings, said board Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lewis, head of the finance subcommittee.

Those savings include $155,000 from a new workers’ compensation insurance plan, $15,000 from a new life insurance policy and $100,000 from changes to the co-payment plan on the employee health insurance policy.

That totals $270,000 and leaves the board $329,040 short of the savings it needs to stay within its budget. The board will also look to save money by possibly not replacing six teachers who are taking early retirement.

There are 33 teachers who have taken an early retirement incentive plan. The school board was expected to replace six of them. But because of the projected budget shortfall, the board will be asked to look at not replacing some or all of those people, McAllister said.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Donovan, left, and Vice Chairwoman Barabara Lewis said a subcommittee may have found a way to close the school board's budget gap without closing a school.
Board Chairwoman Kathleen Donovan, left, and Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lewis said there are ways to close the budget gap without closing a school.

The conventional wisdom is that each relatively new teacher costs the district about $65,000 in salary, and health insurance. That means the borough could save about $390,000 — more than needed — by not replacing six teachers. And the board may look to save money by not purchasing as many instructional and/or custodial supplies next year.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen L. Donovan said she’s all for a cost-savings plan that doesn’t include laying off teachers. She said the board will meet next week to discuss the subcommittee’s recommendation.