Ledyard school budget proposal up 1.7 percent, culinary arts teacher cut

Ledyard — With the budget season underway, the town’s fiscal challenges suggest tough decisions may lie ahead for its schools.

About a week and a half ago, Superintendent Jay Hartling presented his 2018-19 proposed school budget of $31.8 million to the Board of Education. The budget calls for a 1.7 percent increase as well as the reduction of 3.5 full time certified positions at the high school. Two of those positions, however, would be reallocated to the elementary schools.

Reaction to the proposed budget has been mixed with some questioning whether the budget was representative of the district’s needs or created with too much of a focus on getting it approved by the Town Council.

All of this sets the stage for Thursday night's meeting when the Board of Education will discuss the budget proposal at 7 p.m. in the Town Council Chambers annex. 

“We are all in this together and I believe very strongly in presenting what I see as a responsible budget that is realistic in what we’re trying to do,” Hartling said. “I, of course, have many other things that I would like to move forward with immediately but I recognize the financial challenge our municipality is in.”

Hartling added that he approached this year's budget process in a few ways; first, by focusing on the needs of the students and the recommendations in the board's strategic plan, and then balancing those with the fiscal realities facing the town and state.

The proposed 1.7 percent increase is slightly higher than last year’s 1.2 percent increase, as well as the 1 percent increase adopted in the 2016 budget. The budget proposal, among other things, suggests an increase in special education spending and not replacing one of five retiring teachers. 

One aspect of the budget that has drawn the ire of several residents is the decision to eliminate one of the consumer sciences teachers at the high school. At the last Board of Education meeting more than a half dozen residents voiced their support for culinary arts instructor Keith Caron with several former students sharing how he helped them with internship opportunities and pursuing a culinary arts career.

Currently, Ledyard High School has two teachers who teach the consumer sciences curriculum, which includes culinary arts. Under the proposed budget, one teacher would be eliminated. 

However, that does not mean those courses would no longer be offered. Instead, there would just be fewer sections, which would be built around student requests and how they fit into a student’s overall schedule, said Hartling.

The elimination of one of the consumer sciences instructors is in many ways the byproduct of an overall shift in the demographics of the Ledyard school district.

High school enrollment has declined over the past several years driven by magnet school options at the high school level. At the same time, elementary enrollment has increased and the district has several kindergarten classrooms with 25 students, said Hartling.

In fact, this past year the district had 99 more students in it than originally anticipated, he said.

“That’s the hard part about making these decisions,” Hartling said. “We value the teacher and we value the courses we offer, but we also have to make decisions based on the entire K-12 system.”

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