Preston superintendent presents $12.28 million school budget

Preston – Superintendent Roy Seitsinger presented a proposed 2019-20 school budget of $12.28 million to the Board of Education on Monday.

The proposed budget calls for a 3.7 percent spending increase, including a new part-time school social worker and 2.5 new para-educator positions to help with special education students.

The school board's finance committee reviewed and made changes to his initial proposed budget during five meetings, Seitsinger told the board Monday. The full board took no action Monday and plans to discuss and vote on a budget to submit to the Board of Finance at a special meeting March 25. Seitsinger said he expects to trim the total before the board takes its action on the budget.

Seitsinger said three major categories are driving the proposed increase from the current $11.8 million budget – which required three referendums to win voter approval last summer. Salaries would rise by $314,809 including the 4.1 added positions, and health insurance costs would jump by $137,189. The budget includes new contracts with the school teachers’ union, which calls for a 1.8 percent general wage increase, and with school administrators, who are receiving a 2 percent increase.

Negotiations are underway for contracts with two other unions whose contracts expire at the end of this year, the school bus drivers and school support staff.

Seitsinger said some of the increases in the budget would be offset by decreases of some $30,000 in other categories, including $16,479 in high school tuition and $22,095 in school administration costs.

The 4.1 added positions include one new part-time school social worker, 2.5 new para-educator positions and one new bus driver. The remaining additions would be a half day added to the current part-time special education director and a full day added to the school psychologist, bringing that position from four days a week to five. Seitsinger said the fifth day would be funded through the school system’s federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grant.

Seitsinger had proposed a part-time social worker position last spring, and the board increased it to a full-time position at a cost of $66,568. But the board reluctantly removed the item in the cuts that following the referendum defeat. The proposed part-time position is budgeted at $31,415.

He stressed to the board Monday that the position is strongly needed in Preston, as students are experiencing issues such as anxiety, depression, stresses at home as well as at school.

"We have to do what we can to help these young people with what's going on in their lives," Seitsinger said.

The new para-educator positions would be to assist with special education students. He said he expects to add one new para-educator for the remainder of the current school year based on need and add another 1.5 positions next year.

Seitsinger placed the social worker and added hours for the special education director and the school psychologist under the category of social-emotional learning.

He said the added bus driver would replace a costly temporary service the school system now uses for substitute drivers. School Finance Director John Spang said a nationwide bus driver shortage is driving up costs for temporary drivers.

Preston school officials were criticized in the past few years for enacting universal preschool in the budget despite objections by the Board of Finance and some members of the public. With last year’s budget cuts, the program was reverted to a fee-based system. The program currently has 37 students in two classes, including five 3-year-olds identified with special needs enrolled at no cost to the families.

Seitsinger is proposing no changes to the fee-based preschool program, and classroom teacher staffing would remain the same in the budget. The elementary and middle schools have average class sizes of about 20 students, but the two first-grade classes have 23 and 24 students.

c.bessette@theday.com

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