Pay to Play, Staff Cuts Discussed

NORTH BRANFORD - Staff cuts and "pay to play" activities are among options being discussed to help reduce a proposed $30.66 million 2014-'15 schools budget.

On Thursday, Feb. 20, the Board of Education (BOE) meeting will include a vote on the proposed budget, first presented on Jan. 23 by Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker. The proposed bottom line represents a 4.06 percent annual increase. The majority of the increase is attributed to teachers' contractual costs and district health insurance expenses, as well as increases for transportation, heating oil, and natural gas.

Further complicating matters: The district has to propose a budget without knowing whether it will receive a hoped-for 0.91 percent special education excess cost grant. If not, cuts would be needed to make up the difference.

During the Feb. 6 BOE meeting, Schoonmaker and District Business Manager Donald Winnicki discussed budget cut possibilities. While it was not proposed that night, Winnicki stated, for example, the district would need to eliminate five teaching positions to cut the bottom line back to a two-percent annual increase, while approximately 17 teachers would need to be cut to deliver a zero-percent annual increase.

What Schoonmaker and Winnicki did put on the table as was a list of ideas for budget cuts generated by district administrative teams. The teams were asked by Schoonmaker to be "creative" with what he described as a "difficult task."

The list includes eliminating a second position at Totoket Valley Elementary School (TVES), eliminating three new paraprofessionals, and eliminating one instructional paraprofessional from TVES. In addition, with a high school guidance resignation resulting in an $88,000 savings, the opportunity becomes available to increase a proposed 0.4 guidance full time equivalent to 1.0, for a net savings of $48,000. The list also suggested eliminating high school security from the budget request. It also proposed including activity fees, with two scenarios given, for potential "pay to play" costs charged to intermediate and high school students participating in extracurricular activities.

According to the meeting minutes, BOE Vice Chair Marcey Onofrio "expressed outrage at the potential cuts of staff and a suggestion of charging parents for the activity fees." BOE Chair Lou Paternoster also expressed disappointment with the pay-to-play concept.

Schoonmaker reiterated that all of the potential budget cost suggestions were difficult to make. He also expressed dismay with what he described as a "bare bones" budget, with no monies for new programs or to support improvements like those described by the district's strategic planning for long-term goals.

The Thursday, Feb. 20 North Branford BOE meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Stanley T. Williams Community Center, Northford. This meeting replaces one cancelled Feb. 13 due to inclement weather. Meeting cancellation updates are posted at


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