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The Region 4 Board of Education, which oversees the district's two regional schools, John Winthrop Middle School and Valley Regional High School, began its 2014-2015 budget discussions this week in a workshop at the central administration offices. Additional workshops are scheduled, if needed, through February. Earlier this month Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Levy discussed her "helicopter view" of the major budget considerations for Region 4 for the next school year.
One consideration is enrollment. At John Winthrop, student enrollment two years ago dropped to a low of 338. Last year it jumped to 366 and this year decreased to 357. Projections are for modest declines in the next two years. At Valley Regional, the next school year will see a jump in student numbers from 617 this year to 647 in 2014-2015.
"There is a year or two of increased student enrollment before we begin to see a decline," Levy said.
"The new budget will also include costs associated with the new Common Core State Standards, new course requirements, and multiple factors to look at outside of enrollment," she explained.
Major considerations include contractual increases for teachers and administrators. The teachers will be in the second year of their three-year contract, and the administrators will be in the first year of their three-year agreement in this 2014-2015 budget. In both contracts, there are increases in salaries and benefits.
Other major considerations, Levy added, include the cost of health insurance, the price of fuel, and unanticipated special education out-of-district placements. These considerations and the two contracts apply to all the budgets across the district, including the elementary school budgets for the next school year.
Staffing considerations include an increase from part-time to full-time for a social worker at the middle school.
"We are recommending this in light of the greater importance being placed on mental health and the importance of intervention at earlier ages," Levy said. The increase being considered "is in response to the needs of the present middle school population."
At Valley Regional High School, there is a request for a half-time reading teacher. The position would be used to work with "reluctant readers" and with an increasing number of students who are English language learners. Another staffing consideration is the addition of a paraprofessional to Valley Regional's Transition Academy.
Levy said, "This is special education-driven. We educate these students through age 21. The academy helps the students find appropriate post-secondary employment or educational opportunities."
Other budget expenditures could include updating technology, including an iPad rollout in grades 8 and 9, and updating equipment in the science labs.