Ledyard superintendent pitches initial 2019-20 school budget ahead of redistricting

Ledyard — The long-anticipated redistricting project is becoming more real as the Board of Education begins discussing the budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The budget, the first draft of which was presented Wednesday night by Superintendent Jay Hartling, will be the first that does not include Ledyard Center School, which closes at the end of this school year. It's also the first that will include the newly expanded Gallup Hill elementary and Ledyard Middle schools, supporting a plan for two kindergarten through fifth grade campuses and a middle school for sixth through eighth grades that was approved by the town in 2016.

The preliminary budget proposal comes in at $32,548,569, a 1.89 percent increase from the 2018-19 budget.

Overall, major budgetary differences come from an increase in salaries and wages, as well as the utility costs associated with two expanded schools, projected at a total of just over $800,000 more than last year. When completed, Ledyard Middle School alone will have 17,000 more square feet, which prompted the transfer of $106,000 from the general fund to the school district in October to cover an additional custodian, among other things.

However, the district's continued effort to bring special education children with out-of-district placements back in-district is slated to save $550,000. Hartling noted in his presentation that 45 percent of Ledyard's school-age children qualify as at-risk, a 10 percentage point increase over 2016, and a priority has been, and will continue to be, giving all children the opportunity to succeed in the school system.

Staffing changes in the budget include the addition of three middle school teachers, a middle school library media specialist, a literacy teacher, a board-certified behavior analyst, a special education secretary and an elementary assistant principal. An elementary teaching position and an elementary principal will be eliminated.

The redistricting effort also will reassign teachers and discretionary accounts associated with each school and grade to evenly distribute resources among the students. Ledyard Center School teachers will be reassigned to Gallup Hill School, and sixth-grade teachers from Ledyard Center and Juliet W. Long schools will be reassigned to the middle school.

Hartling said the redistricting and associated staffing changes will help even out class sizes. The district ended last school year with 83 more kids than projected, with major spikes at the middle school and Juliet W. Long. The district also saw 73 more special education cases than projected.

He also noted that 14 teachers are anticipated to retire in the 2019-20 year, with six of them already confirming their plans. All positions will be filled.

The Board of Education's Finance Committee will meet on Monday to begin workshopping the budget ahead of approving a total to submit to the Town Council for consideration in February.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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