Litchfield News

School board adopts a budget with adjustments (03-09-12)

Litchfield's Board of Education has adopted a proposed budget for 2012-13 that calls for a reduction of 5.6 full-time equivalent teaching positions, including what some are saying is a key position at Center School, and the addition of a technology director who would be paid $83,730.

The board's proposed budget is $16,720,401, which is $172,401, or 1.04 percent, higher than the current budget of $16,548,000. The board adopted its budget on Wednesday and is scheduled to present it to the Board of Finance on March 19.

Superintendent of Schools Deborah S. Wheeler asked the school board to consider a budget of $16,711,751, which was $163,751, or .99 percent, higher than the current budget. After a lengthy discussion, the board made a series of adjustments to Wheeler's proposal that added a net $8,650 in spending.

Among the adjustments was the elimination of a language arts supplemental skills position at Center School. Cutting the job, one of three of its kind at the school, saves $62,084.

The cut was the subject of much debate during the board's meeting on Wednesday. Some members of the board, including Chairman Frank Simone, believe the position is not necessary and has not helped third-graders improve their performance on the Connecticut Mastery Test.

"Losing the position isn't going to have as much of an effect on kids as much as everyone thinks," Simone said on Thursday.

Simone was one of five Republicans who voted to support the adjustments to Wheeler's proposal. The others were Wayne Shuhi, Donald Falcetti, Betsy Fabbri and John Bongiorno. Democrats Gary Waugh, Amy Rosser, Gayle Carr and James Katzin voted against the adjusted budget.

The Democrats wanted the supplemental skills position kept in the budget. They also were opposed to the elimination of a world language teaching position ($70,209) at the intermediate school and the elimination of a planned science teaching position ($58,901) at the intermediate school.

At a meeting of the board's curriculum and personnel committee on Thursday, several teachers from Center School and the intermediate school were on hand in a show of opposition to the elimination of the supplemental skills position.

The position, they said, is vital to meeting the needs of students who have difficulty in reading and writing. At Center School this year, 74 students have been assisted by the three supplemental skills teachers, according to one of them, Robin Rosenfield.

"These are some of our most fragile students," Rosenfield said. "The individual support they receive has clearly been a success. What we need is additional personnel."
Katie Sullivan, language arts and reading coordinator at the intermediate school, said the loss of a supplemental skills teacher at Center School would have a domino effect at the intermediate school.

"The number of children needing help will increase and their growth will be impeded," Sullivan said. "I want to feel proud of a school district I've dedicated my life to. I love my job and the kids, and that's why I'm so upset. This move makes us go backward in a big way. Your decision last night hurts children. This is wrong folks."

The fate of the foreign language position at the intermediate school was the subject of much debate by the school board as well. Simone believes the position is expendable because students are not assessed on their work.

"It's like a special," Simone said on Thursday, referring to the enrichment classes students take but aren't graded on.

The planned science position at the intermediate school also generated debate. Waugh and Rosser spoke in favor of keeping it in the budget, while Falcetti said it isn't needed. Classroom teachers, Falcetti said, are perfectly capable of teaching science. According to Wheeler, the position would allow for a more "formalized" experience in science for students.

Waugh motioned in support of a proposed budget that would keep Wheeler's spending plan intact and would add $180,000 for technology upgrades the Republicans are in favor of. A vote on the motion failed along party lines, 5-4. Waugh's proposal would have increased Wheeler's proposed budget by $201,000, or 2.2 percent.

The adjusted budget includes $180,000 that will be used to upgrade technology at the high school and intermediate school, which both lack wireless capability. The money will come from a projected surplus in health insurance savings.

Before the board voted on adjusting her proposed budget, Wheeler reminded the board that her spending plan was based on priorities, one of them being maintaining services for students. Cutting the supplemental skills and world language positions, she said, goes against the grain.

"I'm concerned and disappointed about losing opportunities for students," Wheeler said Thursday. "These are opportunities we've offered for some time and it would be sad to lose them."

The supplemental skills position, Wheeler said, is a vital source of support for students.

The proposed technology director position would help the board meet growing needs in technology, according to the board members who support the position.

"We either invest in technology or we play catch up," Shuhi said.

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