East Lyme school board begins deliberations on $550,000 cut

East LymeAs the school board began deliberating Monday on a $550,000 reduction to its proposed 2014-15 budget, it discussed alternatives to cutting teaching positions and student programs

The Board of Education took no formal action on Monday but suggested to administrators that the district maintain current staffing levels rather than add new positions to support the state-required teacher evaluation system. It also recommended that any cuts to activities be equal across the board, rather than eliminating a particular program.

Administrators had presented last week a list of potential budget reductions that would eliminate four teaching positions and thousands of dollars in activities, technology and maintenance. The move follows the Board of Finance’s $550,000 cut to the education budget, which now stands at $42,792,767, or 2 percent more than the current budget.

The list under consideration includes reducing $47,000 in high school activities, which would eliminate freshman sports or cut in-school activities. The list further entails cutting about $40,000 for maintenance projects; $47,000 for middle school activities; $29,000 for middle school athletics; $37,000 for technology; $52,212 for a proposed technology consultant; and $50,000 for instructional resources.

The teaching positions proposed for elimination would be two high school teachers, potentially in classes with 10 or fewer students, and two elementary school positions, one at Flanders Elementary School and one at Lillie B. Haynes.

But after hearing comments from dozens of parents last week and Monday, the board offered alternatives to some of the cuts. Several students and parents had spoken against potential cuts to freshman sports, and others urged the district to not cut teachers or student programs. Some also suggested the district “think outside of the box” to craft new revenue generators.

Board of Education Chairman Tim Hagen said, if necessary, a small cut — distributed equally — to activities across the district would be preferable to eliminating freshman sports or another specific program.

As the board resumes budget deliberations in May, the board said it will want a breakdown on the cost of each activity offered by the district and how much parents or the district contributes to it. Some activities are mostly funded by student contributions, whereas others are paid for by the district, the board said.

“We need to be aware of what the entire cost is,” including transportation and uniforms, said board member Al Littlefield.

The board also explored alternatives to cutting staff positions.

Hagen said he would not support cutting any teaching staff. He instead proposed removing from the proposed budget about $300,000 in new positions to support the state-mandated teacher evaluation system, especially since he said the state mandate is still fluctuating. He proposed monitoring the district’s progress on how well it was meeting the new evaluation guidelines.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Reas explained that the district has been “down to the wire” in trying to finish evaluating one-third of teachers this year. The district wouldn’t be able to complete the requirement of evaluating all teachers and administrators next year with existing resources.

“My best guess is we would make 50 percent,” he said.

Hagen responded that the district could collect “real time” data next year on the district’s progress on the state-mandated program and see how it is working.

In response to a finance board comment, administrators had also explored the cost of closing Niantic Center School next year, which would save the district about $500,000. But administrators said last week it would not be appropriate for the district.

School board members reiterated Monday that the district has hired a consulting firm to guide the community through a multiyear decision for its elementary school facilities. Shuttering Niantic School next year is not on the table, they said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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