Preston school officials explain proposed budget to finance board

Preston — The Board of Education presented its proposed $12 million 2018-19 budget to the Board of Finance on Thursday, outlining the need for the 3 percent spending increase including a new full-time social worker and an additional classroom teacher to reduce class sizes in a large grade.

The overall budget has a 3.04 percent, or $355,915, spending increase over this year’s nearly $11.7 million budget.

Superintendent Roy Seitsinger and school board Chairman Sean Nugent said the board and school administrators did a “deep dive” review of the entire budget to arrive at the totals and priorities approved unanimously by the Board of Education on March 5.

Seitsinger said the basic “budget drivers” include high school tuition, the proposed new classroom teacher, social worker and 1.5 paraeducator positions. Norwich Free Academy, the town’s main designated high school, set tuition at a 1.5 percent increase next year, but Preston’s enrollment at NFA will jump from 151 to 162 students, an increase of $168,921. Overall high school tuition is expected to increase by $187,054, a 9.5 percent hike, to $2.24 million.

The budget includes $72,218 in salary and benefits for a social worker to be shared by the two town schools, and $65,320 in salary and benefits for an additional elementary school classroom teacher to address growing class sizes. The budget also includes $45,000 for 1.5 classroom paraeducator positions that were added mid-year in this year’s budget using savings in special education costs, and now are included in the 2018-19 budget.

“Any social issue you can think of comes through Preston schools,” Seitsinger said, listing issues ranging from substance abuse, home violence, learning disabilities, family grief and major mental illness among them.

Unlike many towns, Preston’s special education costs are expected to drop by $230,993, a 13.8 percent decrease, because of a drop in the number of students needing high-cost services.

Seitsinger also told the Board of Finance that the second resident state trooper added a few weeks ago following a referendum vote, has been “excellent” in support of the schools. He said Resident Trooper Garrett Boehm has been at the schools at the start of school and dismissal. The finance board last week questioned the cost of the second trooper during its review of the town government budget, but took no votes on whether to fund it next year.

Finance board members questioned the need and the issues that would be addressed by the new social worker. Seitsinger said Preston is one of only a few school districts without a social worker. An educational standard guideline calls for one social worker for every 500 students, and Preston has 451 students.

Preston Plains Middle School Principal Ivy Davis told the school board that the number of students who come to school with anxiety, depression and who have experienced traumatic events keeps growing. She said three students required hospitalization. The district has a “less than full-time” school psychologist who works with the students most of the day, and she, too, has spent a lot of time working with the students. Seitsinger said Preston’s experience follows a national trend of “steadily increasing anxiety and depression” among students.

Seitsinger said the school social worker would have a master’s degree and also be specialized in school social work. Unlike teachers and principals, he said, the social worker can leave the school and go visit a family to assess the family situation.

The Board of Finance will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, at Town Hall to review and possibly act on both the town and school budgets. 

c.bessette@theday.com

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