With strategic grant spending, Norwich school officials shave $1.2M off deficit

Norwich — The projected deficit facing Norwich Public Schools just got a bit smaller.

On Thursday, the Board of Education unanimously approved the state Alliance District grant application crafted by school officials and designed to reduce the projected 2018-19 deficit by $1.2 million. This would bring the total deficit down to a little more than $3.3 million instead of the more than $4.5 million previously projected.

Through so-called “strategic grant spending,” district officials said they were able to find cost reductions in the areas of contracted services, tuitions, and salary, benefits and payroll taxes, among other things, by funding them with the Alliance grant instead of the town's general fund.

Administrators also were able to strengthen the district’s ability to advance certain goals.

“We’re trying to look at the best way to meet the needs of the district while not taxing the Norwich taxpayer,” Superintendent Abby Dolliver said.

Two of the most prominent items included in the Alliance grant budget involved creating an assistant superintendent and establishing a Board Certified Behavior Analyst team, also referred to as a BCBA team.

The assistant superintendent, who the Board of Education determined Wednesday evening would be curriculum director Thomas Baird for the 2018-19 year, will be tasked with leading all efforts related to district “talent,” including the recruitment and retention of staff. The assistant superintendent position, which is funded entirely through the grant, also will serve as the district Title IX coordinator and homeless education liaison, oversee financial management related to all grants and oversee all functions related to curriculum, instruction, assessment and staff development, among other things.

Meanwhile establishing a BCBA better enables the district to help struggling students while also retaining them and thus reducing out-of-district tuition costs, Dolliver said. A BCBA team does this by allowing the district to develop an in-house plan that continually can be adjusted to meet the needs of a student without having to turn to an outside contractor.

“A good focus for us is we are going to have these behavior teams help with tuition costs and out-of-district costs, and help kids be successful here,” Dolliver said. “That’s really a win-win.”

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, school officials were projecting a nearly $4.6 million budget deficit for the 2018-19 school year, after City Council earlier this year elected to approve only a $78.46 million school budget instead of the $83 million the Board of Education had requested.

Despite some discussion and threats to take the city to court if adequate funding was not provided, the Board of Education ultimately approved the $78.46 million total at a meeting on June 28.

This still left the school district needing to cut more than $4 million to get to the newly approved amount.

To reduce the remaining projected deficit, district officials also have requested 5 percent cuts in tuition rates and all contracts, or to defer 10 percent of those costs to the next fiscal year.



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