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Ledyard — Facing a projected $116,000 budget deficit that Assistant Superintendent Cathy Patterson called a “fiscal crisis,” the Board of Education voted Wednesday to reduce the hours of more than 100 paraprofessionals, tutors and academic coaches in the district.
Board member Gordon Strickland, who is chairman of the board’s finance committee, said years of flat-funding and even some reductions in the school budget have caught up to them, leaving the board with few options. The district is not making new purchases or hiring any new staff, and money originally slated for new textbooks has already been applied to the deficit.
The schools budget for fiscal year 2013-14 of just under $29.7 million passed handily at referendum in May as another zero-increase budget.
“We are in trouble, budget-wise,” Strickland told the board.
Several other factors contributed to the schools’ operating in the red, including an unexpected increase of $85,000 in magnet school tuition — the amount that the town pays for students living in town to attend out-of-district schools — and decreasing state support for special education, leaving the district $270,000 shorter than expected.
The reduction in hours would go into effect Feb. 1, giving administrators a month to reorganize teacher schedules to accommodate the cuts. Save for four exempt staff who provide direct support to students, no paraprofessional would work more than 29 hours a week, with the majority seeing a half-hour cut a day or two to three hours a week. Some will face a steeper cut of anywhere from 4 to 10½ hours a week.
Strickland said the savings from these reductions from February through the end of the academic year would result in a $96,000 savings.
Board members voted 5-2 in favor of the motion, with Robert Beaver and Rebecca Graebner opposing it. David Luke and Joan Disco did not attend the meeting.
Wednesday’s meeting marked Superintendent Michael Graner’s last in the district as he takes over next month as superintendent of Groton Public Schools. It was also the last for Beaver, who will be stepping down to take a job out of state next month.
Patterson, who will take Graner’s place after Friday, said this cut wouldn’t be necessary if the district were not in a fiscal crisis. She said that the paraprofessionals, who were informed Wednesday of the impending cuts, are “going to be team players with us.”
“The question is, if we don’t do this, then what?” she said.