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$50.7M Branford School Budget Proposed

by marcia chambers | Feb 8, 2012 5:45 am

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Posted to: Schools

Mary Johnson Photo UPDATE—Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez put forth a $50.7 million school budget for the 2012-13 school year last night, a budget designed to emphasize universal pre-kindergarten, world languages at the 4th grade level and hiring an instructional coach in needed areas—for example, writing and reading comprehension.

He also pressed for additional technology learning, both for teachers who still “don’t feel comfortable” with technological advances and for students who do. His aim is to give students at each level the technology best suited to their needs. He said he would not give up on books. 

The 2012-13 school budget unveiled last night at Branford High School came in at 3.1 percent higher than last year’s budget even though student enrollment continues to decline. Whether Branford and other similarly situated districts will get their fair share of state funds is still an issue.

GOVERNOR’S EDUCATIONAL GOALS

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy outlined his education reforms during his noon State of the State address today. The governor’s speech centered on issues Hernandez raised in his budget address last night or in previous interviews. Governor Malloy said he endorsed universal pre-k classes, advanced degrees for teachers, new educational coaching opportunities and new ways to provide professional education for teachers.

His most passionate plea before both houses of the legislature centered on the reform of teacher tenure laws. He noted that Connecticut’s nearby states, New York and Massachusetts had already done so. Right now, he said, tenure is “too easy to get and too hard to take away.” Teachers receive tenure after four years. But it can take years to remove a teacher who is failing.  Teachers, he said, have to be removed in a timely fashion.

Hernandez dealt with the tenure issue when faced with laying off the newest teachers in the system because of budget cuts. He told the Eagle in an interview last June, that he endorsed an educational movement designed to end firing the newest teachers. Currently the way teachers are dismissed is last one hired, first one fired.  Hernandez took issue with that. Click here to read the story.

How Connecticut teachers are dismissed is determined by collective bargaining agreements and by tenure and seniority laws at the state level. Malloy said he wanted the legislature to enact new laws by the end of the session.

SCHOOL SYSTEM’S FIXED COSTS

Branford’s fixed school costs for the 2012-13 budget are roughly $40.2 million of the $50.6 million package; 2 percent of the 3.10 percent increase over last year’s budget is for benefits and salaries. Other fixed costs include transportation, utilities and tuition the district must pay for 94 students who attend various specialized schools.

These heavy fixed expenses come to 93.1 percent or $47.23 million of the total school budget. If history is any guide the school budget is likely to be reduced by the time it is vetted by other town bodies. 

Marcia Chambers Photo Using 18 slides, Hernandez outlined the budget before an audience of roughly 40 people, including parents, administrators, town legislators and the board of education. The purpose of the meeting was to describe the new budget, not to take questions and answers. That will happen at two additional meetings this week, one tonight at 7 p.m. at the Walsh Intermediate School and another on Thursday at WIS at 7 p.m. Both meetings will take place in the faculty lounge.

The overall school budget, the highest in history, comes at a time of declining enrollment. The school system, Hernandez said, lost about 110 students, primarily, he hinted, from those poised to enter Walsh Intermediate School.

WALSH NEEDS WALLS MOVEMENT

The architecture of Walsh, a school without walls, is believed to be one of the major reasons why parents do not send their kids to the intermediate school, which begins in the 5th grade.

A contingent of parents seeking walls for Walsh, a school that operates primarily in open space, attended the budget meeting. The capital budget, which handles building issues, has not yet been released.

While the Walsh with walls debate did not come up, Board of Education president Frank Carrano told the Eagle that a school official is looking into plans as well as the costs of putting up temporary walls within the intermediate school. 

“We are examining the issue,” Carrano said in an interview. Later he said as much to the parents as they unexpectedly met up with one another in the hallway as they were leaving the building.

If adopted by the Board of Education, the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting, the school budget will cover more than half the town’s annual budget, which last year came in at $93.6 million. 

The school budget is typically paid for by property taxes imposed upon residents. Hernandez said that state funding through the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) program has remained flat for the last four years and he expects little or no change this year. The town of Branford receives less than $400 per pupil per year. 

It turns out Hernandez is right. Today Branford’s ECS share for the 2012-2013 school year was announced. It amounts to an additional $19 a year per student.  Click here to read the Eagle’s story. 

But just getting a flat figure may not be as easy as Hernandez thinks. State Rep. Lonnie Reed, told the Eagle it will be a struggle.

TOP PRIORITIES

       

Marcia Chambers Photo Hernandez said his priorities include maintaining current class size, which at the elementary school level is between 16 and 18 students and developing what he termed a “teacher model” to teach an expanding set of pupils whose native language is not English. He said there were 130 students in this category, all speaking different languages. He is looking to find a certified teacher for this group.

He told the audience that right now there is one pre-K class at the Mary Murphy School. “In our lifetime we will have universal pre-K.” He wants to implement another pre-K at John B. Sliney Elementary school.  All-day kindergarten was instituted only four years ago by Hernandez’s predecessor, Dr. Kathleen Halligan.

As for the instructional coach, Hamlet said, “we desperately need this position.” He told the Eagle afterward that this person would help devise programs and coach high school kids in reading comprehension and writing, two areas of concern.

Hernandez told the Board of Education and the audience that last year was a time of “compression,” his word for cutting back. And while that did not occur in the final and most expensive year of the teachers’ contract, Hernandez said, it did happen with a new contract signed late last year. 

He also noted that stimulus funds totaling $702,000 for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 school years are now gone. “Many districts did not plan for this,” he said. But Branford did, he added.

The Board of Education develops an incremental budget each year, using the previous budget as a base. It does not use a zero-based budget system that starts from zero and examines the entire budget.

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