Montville pushes against potential teacher layoffs

Montville — Parents and teachers jammed into the Montville High School library Wednesday night to urge the Board of Education to avoid steep staffing cuts in the 2018-19 budget.

Superintendent Brian Levesque says the school board and Town Council could face tough decisions in the coming weeks, with lower-than-anticipated state aid potentially putting up to two dozen teaching jobs and one of the district's elementary schools on the line.

Several residents and some school board members pushed officials to reconsider outsourcing transportation, a move the school board debated and put out to bid last year before voting 4-3 against a contract with an outside busing company.

Levesque said moving away from a town-run bus system could save almost $1 million in operating and capital expenses over the next four years.

"The money saved from outsourcing our buses would not result in losing teachers," Karen Duhamel of Oakdale said. "It would be a win-win for the students of Montville. It's the least we can do for them."

Steve LeBranche pushed against potential widespread teacher and staff layoffs, arguing that the notion that changing class sizes "won't change class performance is crap."

"The school bus garage has got to go," LeBranche said. "I implore you to consider that as the first option before (laying off) teachers."

Levesque and school board members expect state funding for the 2018-19 fiscal year to tally no more than $10.9 million — about $1.7 million less than originally appropriated by the state. Levesque and school board Chairman Bob Mitchell are both scheduled to testify about state aid before the General Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Levesque was adamant he did not support drastic cuts, but said the board and Town Council members should have a clear and early picture of what potential budget constraints could mean for the district.

Levesque predicted the Town Council would be unlikely to hike taxes to cover the lower-than-anticipated state aid, so unlike previous years, he presented the school board last week with three budget options: $38.4 million, about what he proposed for 2017-18; $37.6 million, the amount the Town Council eventually approved last year; and $36.6 million, the same figure administrators were forced to meet after state cuts in the middle of the 2017-18 school year.

The costliest proposal includes contractual raises and one elementary school teacher reduction, along with reductions in equipment and supplies.

In the $36.6 million proposal, more than 20 teachers likely would lose their jobs. The district would save $252,000 by shifting to half-day kindergarten classes and up to $1.1 million by closing an elementary school, Levesque said. Officials haven't reviewed which school would be closed in that scenario, but they said it was unlikely to be Oakdale Elementary School because of its integrated pre-K program.

The middle-tier $37.6 million proposal calls for increases to class size at Montville High School; a handful of teacher layoffs; eliminating a middle school librarian and enrichment program; switching the middle school to block scheduling; and changing the athletic director to part time.

Levesque noted Wednesday that average class sizes at the high school still would fall below the school board's maximum range of 20 to 25 students.

"There is room for the high school to have teachers teach more kids," he said, arguing the increased class sizes "shouldn't hinder instruction."

An early-retirement incentive — which saved the district more than $200,000 last year — is again on the table. Levesque initially budgeted about $140,000 in savings through the incentive, but he now expects that figure to rise as several teachers have expressed interest or recently filed retirement letters.

The district also could implement an annual $100 fee for high school students involved in any sports or after-school clubs, which Levesque estimates would save about $40,000. The fee would be $100 no matter how many activities the student participates in.

The school board meets again on Tuesday, when it could vote on the budget and propose to seek bids from transportation companies.

The board also could hold off on a final vote and continue tweaking the budget, which is due to the Town Council by March 15.

b.kail@theday.com

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