Tough Choices Eyed On Pre-K, Language Classes
by Diana Stricker and Marcia Chambers | Jun 15, 2012 7:27 am
Posted to: Schools
A plan to bring pre-kindergarten to the John B. Sliney Elementary School appears to have the approval of the Board of Education (BOE), but it will mean eliminating one of two proposed language teachers for fourth grade.
During a BOE committee meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez outlined two options to deal with the $335,000 that the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) cut from the school district’s requested budget, which now stands at $50.2 million. One plan called for two world language teachers for the elementary schools and no pre-K for Sliney; and the second called for one language teacher and one new pre-K teacher. “I would support Option 2,” Hernandez told the committee. “That is my recommendation.”
The BOE committee, which met at the high school at 6:30 p.m., concurred with Hernandez. But the Representative Town Meeting (RTM, ) which met in a lengthy session at the Canoe Brook Senior Center the same night (Wednesday) delivered a couple of blows to the school board.
First the RTM denied Hernandez’s request for $35,000 for designs for new offices for school administrators at Francis Walsh Intermediate School. The vote was 14 to 10, a vote that crossed party lines. Then the RTM took a wait-and-see approach for a new roof for the former Branford Hills School.
Frank Twohill, the Republican minority leader, told the RTM he objected to farming out the BOE office project at Walsh to outside architects. “I have a problem with the $35,000. It should be handled in house. We have people qualified in town to do this.”
His colleague Peter Black thought otherwise. “This has gone through the Board of Finance,” he reminded the RTM. “I am so thrilled that they are reducing their footprint. Thirty-five thousand dollars won’t kill us,” he said, adding that by moving the BOE offices to Walsh, their current building across from the town Green will be freed up to use “for other purposes, sold or whatever. I don’t want to derail this train.”
Dennis Flanagan, the Republican RTM clerk, said the BOE has left him as well as others on the RTM cynical about the BOE budget.. “I am not going to support this. They always come up with a surplus at the end of the budget,” he observed.
Next, by unanimous vote, the RTM also agreed to hold off on allocating $350,000 for roof repairs at the former Branford Hills School, a building long in need of an occupant and no longer used as a school. A town study is underway to determine the building’s future and until that report is finished the RTM by unanimous, bi-partisan vote agreed not to fund a new roof.
Hernandez did not attend the RTM meeting. Nor did BOE Chair Frank Carrano. The BOE meeting ended at abut 8 p.m. Mark Deming, the school system’s director of facilities, was in the RTM audience but he did not speak on behalf of new designs for the superintendent’s office or on behalf of the roof repair at Branford Hills.
The BOE’s Personnel and Finance Committee unanimously agreed Wednesday night to recommend the pre-K plan to the full board for consideration at its meeting next week. The measure is likely to pass, since eight board members attending the committee meeting voiced approval for the pre-K program, and the one absentee sent a letter expressing his support.
Hernandez told the committee that nationwide research indicates that early education is directly linked to success throughout the educational experience.
The only pre-K program currently in the district is at Mary Murphy Elementary School. Initial plans to expand to Sliney appeared to be in jeopardy because of budget cuts. Additionally, BOE Chair Carrano last month told the board that it may not be equitable to have a program only at one school, if there were no expansion plans for other schools. Click here to read a story about those issues.
Carrano told the committee this week he favored Option 2, since it provides a teacher for both language and pre-kindergarten. “I think we have to be equally concerned about providing our students with the best preparation possible,” he said.
He said that starting a world language program in the elementary schools “is a small step in the right direction,” and that “enhancing our pre-K…is a very important aspect.”
Hernandez said that federal Title 1 funds can be used for the new pre-K classes, since Sliney was recently designated as a Title 1 school. Both Murphy and Sliney schools have enough students identified as low-income to allow the school to receive the additional financial assistance. The district’s third elementary school, Mary Tisko, does not have that designation.
Since there are no rooms available at Sliney, the new pre-K program will be housed at the Branford Early Learning Center on Birch Road. Hernandez said the new program could use buses that currently transport youngsters to that center.
The half-day pre-K sessions would include a total of up to 30 students, Hernandez said. A lottery system, similar to the one at Murphy, would be used if there are more applicants than available slots.
Hernandez outlined how the $335,000 deficit would be handled. In addition to cutting one world language teacher, he said savings would come from adjustments to the insurance program; a reduction of special education tuition; and changes in salaries and benefits due to teacher retirements. He said there would be sufficient funds to hire an instructional coach for reading and writing, and a technology integration specialist.
Following the meeting, Hernandez told the Eagle that he will begin next year to look at a sustainable plan to roll out pre-kindergarten programs at all three elementary schools. He said funding could come from a combination of grants, Title 1 assistance and some type of partnerships.
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