To many on the BOE, including myself, this is not as easy as simply eliminating XX headcount. It's not something we wish to undertake. We're faced with many obstacles particularly around physical classroom space, a slowly-declining enrollment, increased state and federal education mandates as well as costs that are simply beyond the BOE's control such as Special Education, contracted salary increases and sky-rocketing medical costs.
To make myself clear, I have concerns with the budget recommendation knowing that it's highly unlike the TC is going to support this increase. But. I'm also not in favor of a zero percent budget increase because it's not feasible given the constraints that the BOE has to operate in. For starters, the $3.07M increase is a very hard pill for Cheshire taxpayers to swallow when they (we) have already been contributing our fair share of taxes to education. To be hit with such a large increase just to maintain status is not sitting well with many in Town. I do believe most understand that items such as Special Education, Contractual increases are beyond the BOE's control...but to these folks it doesn't matter, it's still expensive in this economy especially when not everyone has come to the table to help. Naturally, there are some in town that believes we cannot possibly spend enough on education....we should have an unlimited education budget and exceed it.
Some are going to argue that my possible areas of reduction are considered anti-education and I can only laugh at that. Being fiscally responsible and being for education are not mutually exclusive. As a BOE member I have to find middle ground between delivering a high quality education that is also affordable by the Cheshire taxpayers. Let's not forget that another trainwreck is coming at us regarding ECS under-funding and the State's $3.5B deficit...
Potential Areas of Reduction:
Before I look at any potential budget changes that impact learning within the classroom, I'm first looking at non-mandated items in the budget.
- EIC (or the B-3) program is not mandated by Harford but is fully reimbursed by Hartford. It provides an incredible benefit to the B-3 students at no cost to the town. Perhaps the biggest benefit of this program is by intervening early (B-3) these children have been able to adopt and enjoy a positive learning experience as they progress through K-12. I'd also argue that by having this program in place, it's helped keep special education costs down for these students that have started in the B-3 program and have been able to stay within the Cheshire School at a lower cost to the taxpayer as opposed to placing them outside of the district at a greater cost to Cheshire. I support this program and don't propose eliminating it at this time.
- I am considering raising the participation fee for ALL extra-curricular activites as opposed to eliminating some of them, if possible. Sports and clubs are not mandated by State/Federal and while these programs helped some students perform better in the classroom I don't believe it's a necessity or takes higher priority than the classrom. I'm not willing to sacrifice classroom instruction over extra-curricular activities. I am willing, however, to find a compromise that keeps some or all extra-curricular activities in place by off-setting the costs with participation fees. However, I cannot rule out that some programs may be eliminated entirely. Currently, the finance committee does not have data that breaks down the costs to run each sports/activity but Dr. Florio gave us an estimate of $300,000.
- I am considering eliminating the money that the BOE contributes towards the Cheshire marching band, color guard, winter guard other other club-based activities.
- I am considering eliminating the $75,000 allocated for teachers who are expected to earn advanced degrees and will attain a new level of pay. I don't believe that attaining an advanced degree automatically entitles one to a pay increase unless, of course, it leads to a measurable improvement in classroom instruction and/or teaching more classes.
- However, the BOE may be contractually obligated to provide this increas per the EAC contract. I will get an answer on this tonight
- I am considering eliminating stipends given to department heads at Cheshire High School.
- $431,025 is being requested for Rentals & Leases. This amount includes Swimming Pool Rental, Hockey Rink rental, postage/copy machines. It's unclear how much we're paying for Swimming Pool rental and Hockey Rink. But *if* Hockey is eliminated, for example, there should be a cost savings towards rink rental OR if the rink rental can be funded by an increase in participation fees...it would be ideal to know what the rental cost is.
- I am considering increasing class sizes. I do not believe that increasing some classes another 4-5 students is going to degrade quality of eduction but, if this is undertaken, it must done with precision at this point. As I mentioned in another post, this is driven by the paricular needs of any given class. I do believe a class size of 25-30 students can function well if (a.) the teacher is capable of handling the class size and (b.) the teacher can allocate adequate one-one time with each student. (b) is determined by the needs of each student.
- I propose that we make teaching assistants available to teacher with larger classes so that adequate one-one time can be achieved.
- I base my recommendation on the experience we've had with substitute teachers used to fill a short-term vacancy. We've had great success with graduate student teachers both with instruction and cost.
- I think it's possible that we can, for example, eliminate 6 elementary teachers while will result in larger classes but offsetting those class sizes by having 2-3 TA's available either on a full-time or part-time basis to assist teachers in the classroom in larger classes.
- The TA's could be scheduled to rotate between the larger classes within an elementary school or across several schools.
- I believe that the cost of an IA is much less than an FTE contracted teacher.
- The cost of 2-3 TA's, may be equal to 1 FTE contracted teacher
- Data and analysis are needed to confirm this.
- Currently, many schools utilize parent volunteers in the classroom to help teacher's with various reading, writing and math workshops.
- This has been beneficial in that it frees up the teacher to spend more one-one time with students while the workshop is assisted by a parent.
- I propose increasing class sizes knowing that my 6 and 8 year old daughters at Highland may be impacted by my decision.
- I am not in favor of closing a school during the 2011-2012 school year simply because spreading 324+ students across our elementary schools poses a space constraint issue and there are costs associated with making more space available in existing schools to address a bigger student population and/or retrofitting space to be ADA compliant.
- I do, however, believe we need to reconsider this for the 2012-2013 or 2013-2014 school year when the slowly declining enrollment begins to make a dent in our student population and possibly frees up space within our schools to accomodate a closure of one of our smalller elementary schools.
- Darcey was listed as a possible consolidation in the 2020 Committee report in the next few years. However, there has been no cost-analysis performed (or requested) on doing so.
- It's unclear how much can be saved by closing Darcey vs. how much money needs to be invested to make one or more elementary schools kindergarten acceptable.
- Detailed analysis needs to be performed here.
- My position on redistricting is neutral. Redistricting may be an option forced on the BOE depending on what the final budget number is from the TC. As Dr. Florio stated last week, a $1.5M reduction may jumpstart the school consolidation process.
- But the 2020 report states that Redistricting is not an option at this point due to enrollment/space.
- The 2020 committee also did not run any what-if data analysis scenarios around re-drawing school district lines.
- The lack of a study, with finding and cost analysis (including impact, if any, on student learning) is problematic at this point.
- I want to see employees contribute more to the $8M in health care costs we're facing in 2011-2012. Unfortunately, we have to wait for the next round contract discussions to open that can of worms but it must be on the table and it must be fair.
- Eliminating AP Classes/Electives at CHS. My position on this is neutral at this time. The simple fact of the matter is that we don't have any detailed analysis at this time that either supports or rejects this option. But the AP program has been beneficial for students going on to college that put in the work ethic to undertake AP courses and AP testing.
- I do take Dr. Florio's statement about increased students in study halls as a result of elimination courses at CHS...at face value. I don't question his integrity but I think it would be fair to see the actual courses offered, number of students enrolled, number of seats available to the BOE.
- Eliminating an elective/class may not necessarily eliminate a headcount. More than likely, an instructor for an elective also teacher's more than one class
- More data and analysis is needed for CHS course consolidation options, if any.
Yes, I believe the budget is tight and we must be careful not to make cuts that will undermine our education system.
I hope this provides you with an idea of where I stand on this budget, at this time.