East Lyme education board follows through on cuts, eliminates middle school basketball

East Lyme — Superintendent Jeffrey Newton warned that education cuts would be necessary after the finance board reduced the proposed education budget by $250,000 in April.

On Monday, the Board of Education, despite receiving $1.2 million more as part of its passed $49.2 million budget next year, held true to that statement, unanimously passing cuts impacting teaching positions, as well as middle school sports.

Chief among those cuts, according to Newton, is the elimination of the middle school basketball program — saving the district $8,000 — as well as reductions in teaching and staff positions, including one kindergarten teacher at Niantic Center School, an elementary library assistant and a high school secretary.

Newton specified Thursday that no one lost their jobs, but were instead repositioned throughout the district to other open positions to save money. The kindergarten teacher, for example, now will fill an open third grade position, he said, while the high school secretary will take a different open secretary position and the library assistant will work fewer hours.

The high school late bus schedule also will be scaled back to run three days per week instead of the four it runs now, saving $10,000.

Other savings were found by reducing the amount the district will spend toward legal fees by $15,000, as well as reducing $10,000 in copy paper costs. The district also will save $25,000 in liability insurance plans next year, Newton said.

Explaining the reasoning behind eliminating the kindergarten position at Monday’s meeting, Newton said next year's kindergarten enrollment, which projects 38 students total, will allow for just two kindergarten classes, instead of the three currently in place.

With 19 children in each class, however, class sizes will be slightly larger than in previous years, requiring the board to “watch (kindergarten enrollment) carefully” considering that enrollment may rise over the coming summer months.

“We might need to come back to you in the summer,” Newton said to the board at Monday’s meeting. “If we do gain a couple more students, we will be coming back to you trying to find money for another kindergarten teacher.”

As for the middle school basketball program, Newton said Monday, “There are a number of basketball programs in town. It hurts. It’s a program that kids participate in. But we think we can do away with that.”

Monday’s cuts follow the finance board’s April decision to reduce the proposed $49.5 million education budget by $250,000. After initially proposing to reduce the education budget by $500,000 in an effort to keep the tax rate increase low, the finance board opted to scale back that amount to $250,000 after hundreds of residents and students turned out to speak against the proposed reduction at April's emotion-filled public budget hearing.

“We had the public hearing and we did talk about areas that would take a hit and some of those areas did,” Newton said at Monday’s meeting. “We have done what we said we would do in some facet, but recouping the $250,000 helped us to avoid some deeper cuts.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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