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Harries Starts To Tackle $3.5M Budget Gap
by Melissa Bailey | Aug 14, 2013 11:23 am
Posted to: Schools
Some parents will have to scramble to move their kids to different schools. Some kindergarten teachers may not be hired. And some administrative positions may disappear.
Superintendent Garth Harries announced those possibilities Tuesday as he took the first steps towards closing a surprise $3.5 million gap in the schools budget for the upcoming school year.
Harries found out about the deficit shortly after he was promoted to schools chief three weeks ago. Since then he has been scrambling to find places to save money before school starts on Aug. 28.
Budget-saving changes will begin to take effect in the next few days, Harries announced Tuesday at a special school board meeting at Hill Regional Career High School on South Frontage Road. The board did agree to hire 41 new teachers to fill openings.
Harries said his staff has identified three situations at K-8 schools where teachers have class sizes far smaller than the 27-student maximum. In those three situations, the school system may eliminate the class and reassign students to other schools in order to save money, he said.
“Those teachers still have a job,” Harries said; they may just be reassigned to a different post. Harries said the school system aims to contact parents “in the next few days” to inform them if their students’ class is being eliminated.
He pledged to offer each student “a range of choices” as to which school they’d switch to.
He acknowledged the inconvenience of the last-minute changes.
“Clearly these are decisions that might have best been made prior to now,” just two weeks before school starts, Harries said. But he said he did not know about the $3.5 million budget hole until he was hired as superintendent on July 25. A few days after he took charge of the district, staff presented him with an end-of-year audit that showed an unwelcome surprise: For the second year in a row, the school system ended the fiscal year with a $3.5 million deficit, meaning there’s a structural deficit that’s likely to repeat this upcoming year if no cuts are made.
Harries said the school system’s “budget initiative,” or deficit-tackling effort, will have three stages: Changes that can be made before school starts; changes at the end of this calendar year; and changes that affect the following school year.
His staff has been conducting an internal review of all departments.
In addition to eliminating up to three classes of middle-school kids, Harries said the Board of Ed may find savings by not filling three open teaching jobs. Based on enrollment projections, the district may need to hire three more kindergarten teachers, he said. But the school system is “taking a cautious approach” and waiting to make sure those teachers are really needed before filling the jobs.
“We’re trying to keep candidates in the wings” for those three jobs and hire them only if necessary, Harries said.
Harries said he expects to cut three to four administrative jobs at “large high schools.” And clerical staff may be reassigned so that the district doesn’t have to hire any more secretaries.
He said schools may see cuts to infant care programs; transportation, including after school and field trips; and athletics. The district is also looking at raising the price of permits to rent out schools to outside groups; finding places to save money and generate more revenue in food service, which generated a $2.8 million deficit last year; and consolidating facilities the Board of Ed rents or leases.
Harries said staff are also working on the revenue side, reviewing whether the school district can use grant funding to pay for some of the services currently paid for by the general fund budget.
Meanwhile, Harries lifted a temporary hold on hiring so that schools could fill key positions before school starts.
The board Tuesday approved hiring 41 new teachers, four assistant teachers and one cafeteria manager.
New hires included Danielle Peterson (pictured at the top of this story), age 25, a new kindergarten teacher at Fair Haven School. Peterson, of Illinois, moved to New Haven three years ago; she got her master’s in education from the University of New Haven. She student-taught at Fair Haven School, then worked there as a long-term sub. She showed up Tuesday eager to find out if her appointment would be approved. She waited for half an hour as the school board meeting got a late start, then began to discuss the budget.
Before giving their approval, board members sought assurance that these hires are necessary.
“So, if we do not hire these teachers, there will be kids in a class with no teacher?” board member Mike Nast asked Harries.
“Yes,” Harries said.
The board approved the hires by a 5-0 vote. President Carlos Torre and board member Elizabeth Torres were absent; Myra Jones-Taylor recently resigned from the board.
In light of the budgetary troubles, Harries made no requests for new hires at the board’s previous meeting on Aug. 5.
The board did approve a dozen promotions and hires at its previous meeting on July 22, before the hiring pause took effect.
New Leaders At Cross
Edith Johnson, the new principal at Wilbur Cross, gained two new assistants as she continued to build a new leadership team at the troubled high school.
Francisco Chavarria (pictured) and Monica Joyner both got hired as new assistant principals at Cross, the city’s largest high school, on July 22. Chavarria, who’s 38, moved to the U.S. from El Salvador when he was 12 years old. Most recently he worked at Bishop Woods as an instructional math coach.
Chavarria and Joyner will both make $109,687 per year. They join new assistant principal Ann Brillante, who’ll lead the new Internationals Academy at Cross, a state-backed turnaround effort that’s part of the Commissioner’s Network of low-performing schools. The academy aims create smaller learning environments for English-language learners and other freshmen in order to tackle rampant chronic absenteeism, as well as a large Hispanic achievement gap at the school.
Two assistant principals at Cross, Larry Conaway and Stephen Ciarcia, transferred to other schools. Conaway is taking over Dixwell New Light High School, a 30-student program for kids returning from prison. Ciarcia joined Hill Regional Career High.
In other new appointments last month, Linda O’Brien became assistant principal at Lincoln Bassett School, and Florence Crisci became assistant principal at Bishop Woods School. Assistant Principal Laurian Kehoe was transferred from Bishop Woods to John C. Daniels School.
Recent hires have also included several new teachers at Clemente Leadership Academy, which is undergoing a staffing shakeup. Principal Pam Franco said she has hired six new teachers for her 30-person staff. Four teachers left the school: Two non-tenured teachers were fired; one teacher transferred to teach younger kids at Strong School; and another left to join Teach For America. The school is adding a fourth- and a fifth-grade class due to enrollment “bubbles,” she said.
Clemente is entering the third year of a turnaround effort run by a private management company, New Jersey-based charter operator Renaissance Management LLC, funded by a $2.5 million federal School Improvement Grant. After a disappointing first year, the school showed two-point gains in the number of kids scoring “at goal” and “proficient” on standardized tests last year, even as the rest of the state showed declines on those tests.
Franco credited the testing gains to a “team effort throughout the building” and strong support from Renaissance.
Heading into its third year, Clemente is also experiencing “a lot of internal movement” in the school, Franco said. Five teachers are transferring within Clemente to teach different grade levels, all voluntarily, she said.
“We’re going to have some really strong teams,” she said.
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Congratulations, and welcome, Danielle Peterson! Fair Haven is very lucky to “keep” you!
I’m not certain that I buy that Mr. Harries and the remainder of the Board had no idea that there was a $3.5 million shortfall. If it was the case that he had prior knowledge and concealed it before the search to ensure he was appointed, that is unacceptable. If he did not have knowledge of a structural issue, that too is problematic.
I hope that he is sincere and that the Board budgets accordingly next year. This is very problematic for the school district and all parents. Let’s hope there are no more surprises in store for the kids this coming school year.
This article reports that NHPS Superintendent Harries “found out about the deficit shortly after he was promoted to schools chief three weeks ago. Since then he has been scrambling to find places to save money before school starts on Aug. 28.”
And “He acknowledged the inconvenience of the last-minute changes.”
Harries said, “Clearly these are decisions that might have best been made prior to now.” And he said that he did not know about the 3.5 million budget hole until he was hired as superintendent on July 25.
The most interesting line of the story, at least to me, was “For the second year in a row, the school system ended the fiscal year with a 3.5 million deficit, meaning there’s a structural deficit that’s likely to repeat this coming year if no cuts are made.”
Am I the only one who finds this not to be credible?
If one assumes the BOE budget to be 400 million, then a 3.5 million deficit is less than 1% of the total budget. Is it not curious that such a small part of the aggregate has appeared two years in a row as a “surprise” deficit? The probability of that occurrence is staggeringly low.
Simply put, something is not quite right somewhere. Either the management of NHPS knew and sandbagged their new boss or the new boss knew and chose this moment to announce it to the public. And that is just for starters.
Again, 3.5 million dollars is a convenient number of a much larger budget which suggests that money may have headed “south” on the watch of Harrie’s predecessors.
This “surprise” deficit is but another reason why the FBI needs to come in with forensic accountants and attorneys and find out where all the taxpayer’s money has been spent on the BOE for the last 20 years.
Didn’t the Board/City approve an additional 3 million dollars for the Education Budget just about a month ago? Does this mean that if this additional 3 million dollars hadn’t been approved the Education Budget deficit would have been 6.5 million dollars? Something is not quite kosher.