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East Lyme - After much discussion, the Board of Education approved Monday a $43,342,767 budget for 2014-15, representing a 3.34 percent increase over this year.
The budget, which trims the superintendent's initial proposal by 1.54 percent, passed with six members in favor and four opposed.
The Board of Education will present its budget to the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen on Wednesday.
Cuts to the initial proposal include some funding for maintenance and $372,000 for benefits due to a one-year delay in requirements under the Affordable Care Act. The approved budget also eliminates a proposal to reinstate the elementary-school language program, two new instructional assistant positions, an unfilled special education position and some part-time positions.
To support the state-mandated teacher evaluation system, the adopted budget will allocate $378,258 for an assistant principal position, two deans of student positions, a computer consultant and three bus monitors.
The new administrative positions are intended to handle low-level disciplinary issues, essentially freeing up time for principals who are experiencing demands under the new teacher evaluation system, according to the superintendent. The bus monitors are for safety reasons and to reduce disciplinary incidents, which also consume principals' time.
The board had previously asked Superintendent James Lombardo to suggest means to reduce the original budget proposal, which was 4.88 percent more than this year's budget. He said Monday that any further reductions would result in cuts to programs for students.
The board discussed on Monday the new positions and how the board would handle it if the legislature postponed fully implementing the teacher-evaluation system.
Lombardo explained that if that occurred, the board could return the unspent money back to the community at the end of the year.
Several board members supported adding the new positions to prevent staff burnout from the new requirements and fulfill the state's mandate.
"I don't know if we have a choice if we want to continue the excellence here for students," said board member Robert Kupis.
Other members opposed adding new administrative positions, given the potential that the legislature could postpone implementing the new mandates. They instead favored going back to the town for a special appropriation if the district needed support for the teacher evaluations.
Member Pam Rowe said the board has to put forward a budget the community can afford, especially in this economic climate. She said she was not a fan of the three bus monitor positions.