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Stonington — This past spring, as the Board of Finance cut the proposed increase in the school budget, members told school officials to come back this summer to request funding to install school security upgrades and perform new state-mandated teacher and administrator evaluations.
Eliminating those items from the budget helped decrease the budget and the proposed tax rate.
On Wednesday night, school officials did exactly that but left empty-handed.
Board of Finance members raised questions about the school board’s $125,000 request to hire an assistant principal to help with teacher evaluations and also questioned whether it made sense to make up to $1.7 million in security and other school upgrades now while the K-12 School Building Committee is still putting together a proposal to upgrade the town’s three elementary schools. That plan could include abandoning some or all of the current elementary schools and building a new middle school.
The school system had originally said last spring it would costs $330,000 annually to do the evaluations, but the new request cut that cost in half. Riley said a plan is in place to do the evaluations at the elementary and middle schools, but money is still needed to hire someone to do them at the middle schools.
Finance board member Sandy Grimes, a retired teacher, opposed spending the $125,000 on the evaluation. He questioned whether the requirement was actually a state law and whether it could be changed with upcoming state elections.
Superintendent of Schools Van Riley told Grimes the legislature had passed the law and the state Department of Education has approved the town’s evaluation plan. He said he receives constant email reminders from the state that the evaluations have to be done multiple times through the school year for each teacher.
But Grimes suggested hiring a retired administrator at an hourly rate to do the evaluations instead of hiring an assistant principal who “once is in there we can’t get rid of him.”
Riley said doing so would cost nearly the same.
He added that without the assistant principal, principals will not be able to attend to many of their other responsibilities because they will now have to take on the evaluations.
Grimes said he was also worried about setting a precedent by approving requests for additional money after the budget is approved.
The finance board also decided to hold off on the school improvements until the K-12 school building committee comes up with a plan in the next few months. At that point, board members will know what schools will still be used.
Finance board member Bryan Bentz said improvements could be done at the high school and middle schools because those schools are expected to remain under any plan. The board asked school Business Manager Bill King to put together a prioritized list of upgrades for the schools that will remain. The work could then be part of a bonding package.
The list of improvements includes $520,000 in immediate security upgrades, $365,000 in other immediate improvements and $669,000 in additional security upgrades through 2019.