REDDING BOARD OF EDUCATION
Budget Workshop Meeting Minutes
February 14, 2017
Board of Education Members: Denny, Florkowski, Hoffman, Irwin, Miller, Whaley Administration: McMorran, Pierson Ugol, Martin, Wessman Huber, Basta, Wallin
Others: Approximately 25 members of the public
Dr. Irwin called the meeting to order at 7:32 p.m.
APPROVAL OF THE MINUTES
MOTION: Motion to approve the Minutes from the February 7, 2017 Redding Board of Education Budget Workshop Meeting. Hoffman, Miller. Approved. Unanimous
Amanda Nevin, Black Rock Turnpike, read a statement written by her children supporting Project Adventure.
Amy Arnold, Werf Drive, said putting a hypothetical number out for the budget will just create an opportunity for the Board of Finance to debate it and bring it down.
Mr. Hoffman spoke with Bill Alvarez about the formation of a Board of Finance Subcommittee, which would take a deeper look at the Board of Education finances; both agreed that it would take a long time to complete. The first step would be to agree on an agenda, look at firms to do the audit, and find out the cost. Second would be to bring that research to the Board of Finance for approval. He said the BOF doesn’t have the funds. If they were to agree to it, however, it would then go to the Board of Selectmen. The process would take a while and may not happen until the summer. He also said public relations would be a very important part of the process due to differing information being presented on social media. Mrs. Florkowski suggested that perhaps Dr. Lagas, current Interim Finance Director, could look at the information.
Mr. Hoffman said that Dr. Lagas would be needed to do the study but there would also need to be an auditing firm with expertise in this area to do the job. Mr. Miller said that they want to support the work of the Board of Finance but that the Board of Education needs to conclude their earlier study first, which will be discussed at the March meeting.
DISCUSSION AND ACTION OF THE ELECTION OF THE CHAIR
The vote on the Election of the Chair was held over until the March meeting due to the budget discussions.
DISCUSSION OF THE 2017-2018 OPERATING BUDGET
Dr. McMorran stated that the board needs to vote on the final budget number tonight. He said that the Governor presented his new budget proposal on February 8th after the last budget workshop meeting, and the new budget will significantly impact the Board of Education. The Governor’s new budget would affect the areas of Education Cost Sharing, Special Education Excess Cost Sharing, and the Teacher Retirement Bureau Pension Costs. The changes are as follows:
• Education Cost Sharing: In 2017, the state agreed to pay the town $180,135 for ECS. The new budget proposes only $16,000 a year for 2018 and 2019.
• The Special Education Cost Sharing: In the past, the Special Education ECS was determined by using 70% of the costs for individual students with special needs. Once this cost exceeds 4.5 times the cost of the general per pupil cost, the state would pay the difference. The new State budget would provide only a lump sum of $430,780, which also includes Joel Barlow special education costs. Currently, Joel Barlow has over 12 students involved in its Special Education program and an additional 25 students out-placed because of their needs.
• The Teacher’s Retirement Bureau: Teachers do not get social security in Connecticut and do not qualify for Medicare because they pay into The Teacher’s Retirement Bureau. They pay 6% of their salaries for retirement and 1.25% for insurance. The new State budget proposes shifting 1/3 of the cost of the Retirement Bureau’s payouts to the town. This “shift” would add an additional cost of $1,740,644 for Redding grades K-8.
• These cuts add up to about $2 million more of additional costs than was anticipated a week ago.
He also stated that six teachers have verbally expressed interest in early retirement with a potential savings of $339,857. Some of the teachers would be replaced with lower salaried employees. The recommended replacements include a math specialist at RES, a special education teacher at JRMS, and a 4th Grade classroom teacher. The calculation also includes not replacing the following: a .6 music position at RES; one gifted and talented teacher at RES; and a kindergarten teacher along with their paraprofessional, leaving only four kindergarten rooms. He does not recommend these changes but they are possibilities. Dr. Wessman Huber said that the current confirmed kindergarten enrollment is 74, but additional enrollments could make it as many as 83. With four kindergartens there will be between 18 to 21 students per classroom depending upon final enrollment.
Additional possible reductions discussed included: not extending Spanish to kindergarten ($14, 291); reducing technology assistants at RES from two full-time to 1 full-time position ($42,368); and reducing 1 kindergarten Paraprofessional ($12,951).
MOTION: Motion to move Public Comment to before the vote on the budget. Miller, Florkowski, Approved. Unanimous.
Amy Arnold, Werf Drive, said the number we give the Board of Finance is never initially accepted. The Board of Finance always asks to cut more. The Board of Education should leave the potential cut items in so there is room for these cuts when the Board of Finance asks for them.
Colleen Pilato, Portland Avenue, has been emailing the Board of Finance and read an email from a Board of Finance member in which they stated that the Superintendent has an agenda to have more than enough to do what he wants to do with the school system. She also said she really appreciates the Board and what they are doing and is impressed by everyone involved. She stated it’s hard to find a kindergarten teacher at the last minute if enrollment goes up. She asked if there was a gifted and talented teacher that can double as a kindergarten teacher. She thinks the parent community needs to know about ways that they can support the schools without increasing any costs. Dr. Irwin said that there was a Redding Education Foundation in the past.
Suzanne Nolan, Lonetown Road, stated that she was at a Board of Finance meeting and they currently have a 4.5% increase in the planned budget. She said this will be really difficult for people in this tough climate. She is emailing her representative about the loss of the $1.7 million and recommended the Board look at the whole picture. She thanked the board for the transparency and commended the schools and Dr. McMorran.
Chris Parkin, Hill Road, said he thinks reducing a section of kindergarten is playing a dangerous game, as the current class size is larger than we want. He wanted to know if they had included an adjustment in the insurance costs with the number of teachers discussing retirement.
Amanda Neville, Redding, wanted to know if the town would consider taking in kids from other towns to get additional money. She also wanted to know if there were any cuts in the central office to save teachers.
Betsy Higgins, Great Pasture Road, said her understanding is that with a teacher retirement, there is a bonus paid to the leaving teacher plus the cost of the salary for the replacement, therefore the savings is less in the first year than in subsequent years. Ms. Denny said she would follow up with her after the meeting, as this is a comment period and not a discussion.
Tracy Darmofal, Archer’s Lane, asked what would happen if Redding enrolled more than the estimated 83 kindergartners by the fall.
Mike D’Agostino, Glen Hill Road, said that although there was proper procedure with the appointment of a board member to seek early retirements gaining the interest of six potential retirees, there should be more information on what the retirement incentive is and what the costs would be. He stated that the Board should have a signed agreement with the teachers before making budget assumptions. If anyone backs out, there will be a problem.
Annika Caes, Deer Hill Road, strongly urged not to cut a kindergarten classroom. She said there are many houses on the market priced for families with younger children. She expressed concern that children coming in won’t get enough attention.
Trisha Callahan, Topledge Road, said she appreciated the kindergarten concern but her daughter was in a class of 25 and was fine. She recommended that the public respect the Board for their work and the way in which they present the budget.
DISCUSSION OF THE 2017-2018 OPERATING BUDGET
The new budget recommendation would replace the math specialist, the special education teacher, the 4th grade teacher and the gifted and talented teacher, but would eliminate the full-time technology specialist, the .6 music teacher, the kindergarten teacher and the kindergarten paraprofessional. This put the new budget number at $21,002,268.
Dr. McMorran wanted to remind the public that there is not a penny more he can take out of the budget without eliminating programs. He urged the public to engage with the Board in civil discourse regarding their concerns on the budget. He stated that this is the public’s decision and they should continue to get involved. He said it is not his position to advocate, only to tell the Board what he needs to run the schools. He expressed gratitude to the Board for its work.
MOTION: Motion to approve a Redding Board of Education Budget for the 2017-2018 school year of $21,002,268. Denny, Whaley. Approved. Unanimous.
MOTION: Motion to adjourn the meeting. Miller, Denny. Approved. Unanimous.
The meeting adjourned at 10:05 p.m.
Allyson Florkowski, Redding Board of Education Secretary