Salem superintendent proposes budget with 1.77 percent decrease

Salem — The first step toward a school budget for the 2018-19 year was taken at the Board of Education meeting Monday night, with Superintendent Joseph Onofrio II presenting a $10.36 million budget proposal.

The superintendent's proposed budget is about $186,000 less than the 2017-18 approved budget, a 1.77 percent decrease. It will be discussed by the board on Monday, Jan. 22, and voted on Monday, Feb. 5. The Board of Finance will review the final proposal at its meeting on Thursday, March 8.

Last year, the school board initially approved a $10.83 million budget for 2017-18, which was a 1.3 percent increase over 2016-17. Citing growing uncertainty regarding state funding, the finance board voted unanimously to cut it to $10.55 million. The general town budget was approved by a 169-46 vote in May, but in an advisory question on the ballot, voters were evenly split on whether they thought the $10.55 million was too high for the school.

Changes in the 2018-19 budget include several staffing changes to account for the changing population at the prekindergarten through eighth-grade school. Current projections show a steady overall school population, decreasing by one student from 398 to 397, with most grades having between 35 and 45 students.

The budget eliminated a full-time kindergarten teacher and a full-time first-grade teacher, reducing each grade to two teachers. A second-grade teacher and a special education teacher were added. A part-time instructional coach position, to be filled by existing staff, also was added. Several aides and tutors were added and eliminated at different grade levels for a net loss of two aides. A part-time school secretary position also was added, to be filled by existing staff.

Both the special education teacher and instructional coach position were in last year's proposed budget but were dropped by the school board when the finance board requested additional cuts. The coach position would be filled by Director of Special Services Donna Gittleman to help bring special education students with outplacements back to the school, saving money later on.

A sizable decrease in the budget comes from decreased high school tuition costs. Salem students in ninth-grade through 12th-grade go to East Lyme High School, and with the population slated to decrease from 190 to 162, Salem is expected to save more than $400,000 from last year's tuition costs.

The district also will save money from out-of-district tuition and transportation, with fewer children expected to attend magnet schools and fewer expected to need special education outplacements.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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