Preston school board OKs proposed 5.4% budget hike

Preston - Early childhood education would receive a major boost if the proposed Board of Education budget approved Monday makes it through the budget process unaltered.

The Board of Education on Monday approved a proposed $11.2 million school budget for 2014-15 that is 5.4 percent more than the current budget, with most of the increase due to a new universal pre-kindergarten program and special education costs.

The budget, which is $569,845 more than the current budget, will be presented to the Board of Finance on March 17.

Superintendent of Schools John Welch said five new special education student placements and five changes in programs for current special education students, would account for 2.2 percent of the 2014-15 budget increase.

The budget supported Welch's plan to launch universal pre-kindergarten next school year, and the Board of Education added $72,920 to hire two full-time teaching assistants to be placed in the kindergarten and first grade classes.

Creating universal pre-kindergarten would require a budget increase of $226,000. Welch estimated that the program would enroll 39 students in two pre-kindergarten classes, requiring two teachers, two instructional aides and one bus driver for the additional students.

Because of declining enrollment in upper grades, only one new teacher would have to be hired, Welch told the board.

The school system now has only one full-day pre-kindergarten class, a state mandated integrated class for students with special needs and a limited number of regular education students chosen by lottery. Those parents pay a fee based on a sliding scale. While the integrated class would remain in place, the revenue from the fees has been removed from the budget.

During Monday's public comment period, two parents asked the board also to consider adding classroom assistants in the two kindergarten classes to help teachers acclimate students who have had no preschool experience.

Board member Daniel Harris proposed adding the funding to the budget, and the full board agreed. The budget passed 6-1, with member Charles Raymond voting against it.

Overall, salaries, health insurance and special education, along with increases in Social Security, Medicare and workers' compensation insurance payments account for much of the increase, while all other line items in the budget are expected to decrease next year.

Regular education tuition for high school students is projected to decrease by nearly $102,000, a 5.4 percent drop, mainly because of declining enrollment. The Norwich Free Academy Board of Trustees last week approved a budget with a 2 percent tuition increase - half the tuition hike Preston officials had expected based on the NFA trustees' projection a year ago.

c.bessette@theday.com

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