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Groton superintendent proposes budget with 1.1% increase

Groton — During a virtual public hearing Tuesday, Superintendent Susan Austin presented a proposed education budget of $78,268,081 for next year. It represents an increase of $829,991, or 1.1% more than the current year’s budget.

Board of Education Chair Kim Shepardson Watson said the proposal represents the superintendent’s proposed budget, but the board has developed strong recommendations in terms of class size and supporting the Next Generation Science Standards curriculum; math instruction; literacy through the Teachers College reading and writing program; and the International Baccalaureate program at Fitch High School and Groton Middle School.

There also is support for five elementary magnet schools next fall, continuing to address infrastructure and technology needs, maintaining a program to offer transitional work experiences to 18- to 22-year-olds and maintaining the Tree House child care program, as well as continuing to have a school resource officer at the high school and also at the middle school, according to the presentation.

Austin said during Tuesday’s presentation that school officials develop most budgets with the mindset of “What’s the most important thing that we give our students?”

“And the most important thing is their teachers, administrators, support staff, so all budgets tend to have most of the funding going towards staff and salaries and also benefits,” she said. At $59,871,211, salaries and benefits make up about 76.5% of the Groton Public Schools’ budget, according to the presentation.

The overall amount of funding for salaries is increasing by $963,526, or 2%, next year, according to the presentation.

According to the presentation, the salary category was initially projected to increase more, but contractual pay increases “were offset by efficiencies due to consolidation of elementary schools.” For example, Austin said the district will have one fewer principal next year when two new magnet elementary schools will open and Claude Chester, S.B. Butler and Mary Morrisson elementary schools will be closed.

Austin said the district offset an anticipated increase in the cost of benefits by using some of the health insurance reserve. Overall, the line item for benefits is decreasing by $751,577, or 7.2%, in next year’s budget.

The district is seeing some decreases in costs next year, such as for snow removal, as well as other increases, such as the cost of electricity with new school buildings that are larger, she said.

After the presentation, one person from the public spoke. Connie Woods requested that the board look at budgeting for HEPA filtration and carbon dioxide monitors in classrooms and offices for proper ventilation controls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Students will most likely still need layers of protection while they wait for their pediatric vaccines to be approved,” she said.

Woods added that studies also show poor air quality has an effect on learning and increased absences, and ventilation improvements have the added benefit of helping with allergens and air pollution in classrooms.

Austin said the school district’s facilities director, Sam Kilpatrick, will speak on the topic at next Monday’s meeting and the school district will post a Fuss & O’Neill air quality report on the district’s website, grotonschools.org.

The Board of Education continued to review the budget on Tuesday evening. The board plans to hold budget workshops through February, Austin said. Once the board adopts a budget, it heads to the Town Council and then the Representative Town Meeting, Shepardson Watson said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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