Alliance District designation allows restoration of Groton education funds

Groton — Last week, Superintendent Michael Graner got what he called "the shortest email I've ever seen that resulted in $1.6 million." The school district is now in the unique situation of determining how to add $1,568,239 back into its budget.

This is the difference between the district's appropriation last year and the education budget the town approved in the spring. As a result of being named an Alliance District in the 2017-18 state budget, Groton is not allowed to reduce its budgeted appropriation for education year to year.

With the designation, Groton Public Schools joined 30 districts – including New London and Norwich – that had been identified as the lowest performing in the state.

Graner's proposal for the $1.57 million includes restoring funding for paraprofessionals, special education teachers, math and literacy specialists, field trips and more.

He will present his recommendations to the Board of Education at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday evening, which will take place at 6 p.m. in the central office. The board is expected to vote on the recommendations at its Dec. 18 meeting.

Graner's recommendations include $600,000 for paraprofessionals, along with $39,000 each for a literacy specialist at Charles Barnum and Northeast Academy elementary schools, literacy specialist for the middle schools, math specialist for the middle schools, and special education teacher for West Side Middle School.

Graner explained that in the aftermath of closing Pleasant Valley Elementary, the district didn't accommodate for the necessary number of paraprofessionals, which he described as being "way out of balance right now."

He also said about 120 students were sent from Pleasant Valley to Charles Barnum but the special education staff wasn't increased, and so he is proposing the addition of a part-time special education teacher at Charles Barnum, for $16,000.

The other personnel costs include $147,000 to cover a remaining shortfall and $40,000 for a math tutor at Northeast Academy.

Graner also proposes allocating $389,985 for site budgets, field trips, software, membership in the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, equipment and landscaping for buildings and grounds, and costs of moving a portable classroom and trailer from Pleasant Valley to other elementary schools.

The move of the portable classroom has already been done.

Lastly, the budget carves out $219,254 for activities that are required as part of the Alliance District designation, such as before- and after-school programming, tutoring, professional development and summer initiatives.

Graner doesn't yet know all the specifics of Alliance District requirements but will be attending a meeting in Hartford to learn more.

The superintendent explained that the $1.57 million going back into the school budget does not mean the town has to cut funding elsewhere, because the town budget factored in a $5 million decrease in education funding from the state, and this decrease didn't materialize.

The state budget cut Education Cost Sharing grants for most districts by 5 percent over last year but kept ECS money for Alliance Districts flat.

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