East Lyme school board adopts superintendent's budget

East Lyme — The Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to adopt the superintendent’s proposed 2018-19 budget of $47.7 million, or 2.59 percent more than this year’s spending plan.

Board of Education member Barbara Senges called it a "zero-based" and "streamlined" budget.

During a public hearing prior to the vote, Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said fixed costs make up most of the budget, with 80 percent of the budget comprised of salaries and benefits. He highlighted that the school district has saved money by  moving to its own food service program and a high deductible health insurance plan, among other initiatives, and is working on collaborating with the town and other school districts.

The proposed budget includes $208,684 for 2.7 new social worker positions – one at the high school, one at the middle school, and a 0.7 position at the elementary school level – and a part-time school psychologist at the elementary level. The district is eliminating one high school teaching position and one teaching position at Lillie B. Haynes School, because of enrollment changes, saving the district $152,320.

Newton said that the school district currently has a ratio of 1,854 students to one social worker, more than double the ratio of similar school districts. For example, Waterford has a ratio of 522 students for one social worker.

Newton presented data that showed that last year, there were more than 30 mental health/crisis intervention occurrences at East Lyme High School and about 27 at East Lyme Middle School. Based on the number to date, the school district projects there will be a "significant increase" in interventions this year.

Director of Student Services Kimberly Davis defined a crisis as suicidal thoughts or plans, spending prolonged periods of the school day with counselors, depression, or suspected abuse or neglect.

At the elementary level, students "with the highest needs are seen individually so little to no small group intervention is available," according to the presentation. When crisis support is needed, staff may have to travel and leave their current location without coverage, Newton said.

“We are in a reactive mode, not a proactive mode,” Newton said. “We want to get to a proactive mode.”

Under a proactive model, social workers implement prevention programs and provide early intervention services for at risk students, among other steps, while a school psychologist does comprehensive psychological evaluations and develops individualized plans for students, among other services, according to the presentation.

During the hearing, Newton recognized the Dagle family for their work in promoting mental health and suicide prevention awareness.

One resident, Ryan Shrader, spoke and offered his support, saying the budget seems reasonable and focuses on the long-term plan.

During the Board of Education meeting following the hearing, First Selectman Mark Nickerson spoke in support of the mental health initiatives. He said that unlike other towns, such as Waterford, whose youth services' departments have the infrastructure to offer mental health support, East Lyme youth services offers socializing and trips, but doesn’t have the infrastructure for mental health services.

“This is very important,” he said. “I’m glad you’re recognizing it.”

The Board of Education will present the proposed budget to the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 21 and to the Board of Finance at a date to be determined, likely in March. The Board of Finance will hold a public hearing on the proposed education and general government budgets at a date to be determined, likely in April.

The annual town meeting is scheduled for May 14 and the town referendum is scheduled for May 24.



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