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Proposal calls for $1M increase
Ledyard - Approved Wednesday by the Board of Education, next year's school budget proposal calls for an increase topping $1 million - the largest dollar amount requested in more than five years.
The $30.7 million budget reflects a 3.47 percent increase - slightly lower than the school board Finance Committee's original 4.27 percent proposal last month. This will still be the largest percentage increase in two years.
"It's definitely an increase," said Board of Education Chairman Julia Cronin. "The million dollars is not just a drop in the bucket, but it is what's really necessary in order to make things right."
This proposal comes after the school board found itself with a $112,000 deficit in December, which members then voted to account for with reduced paraprofessional hours - evoking outrage from the affected staff and their supporters.
A full spending freeze had been in effect even before this controversial cut, thanks to reduced state reimbursement for special education, magnet school tuition increases, maintenance issues and the federal government shutdown, among other factors.
As a result of the freeze, several curriculum revisions - including purchases of new textbooks and other classroom supplies - were put on hold.
The paraprofessional hours reduction will stay in place, said Finance Committee Chairman Gordon Strickland. But all of the other areas harmed by the spending freeze will be back on track. "Even though it's more money, it's maintaining the status quo," Cronin said.
Between the Finance Committee's original proposal and the one the board approved Wednesday, members made several cost-saving changes. An early retirement program - offering teachers the chance to put in for their state retirement funds before the school year is up - netted four additional retirements, two of which will allow for lower-salaried teachers to take their places.
The other two - on the elementary school level - will remain unfilled because of declining enrollment.
Ledyard will also switch over from a contracted social worker to a staff social worker serving students in all grades. The district will move the district psychologist, who currently serves all students, to an elementary school position. Cronin said this choice - while it does save the district about $29,000 - reflects a "change in needs" and a loss of social services on the town side of the budget.
One part-time high school social studies teacher will be taken off the payroll, and the district will for the first time hire a consultant to support students with autism.
Strickland said contractual obligations account for about a third of the increase; special education covers another third; and much of the rest is related to maintenance costs, as many of the district's facilities age.
More broadly, the budget increase signals a change of pace for the board, which until now generally followed the Town Council's directive to aim for no increases, Strickland said.
"We're really telling people what it costs for education in Ledyard," he said. "We're trying to be very straightforward about it."
The board will submit its budget to Mayor John Rodolico on Monday, who will then pass it to the Town Council for review.