Montville Board of Education to debate budget options

Montville — As they review a $39 million proposed 2019-20 budget presented this week by Superintendent Laurie Pallin, district officials and Board of Education members will debate what parents and administrators say are crucial investments in elementary school field trips, middle school sports and other services that have been slashed or impossible to fund in recent years.

Pallin provided the school board with a pair of budget options: a $39,191,704 spending plan focused primarily on required increases to salaries and benefits, as well as tuition for Montville children attending out-of-district schools; and a potential $39,420,204 package including a new social worker position, maintenance worker and the return of sports at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School and field trips for students at the district's three elementary schools.

The potential quarter of a million dollars in additional spending — about $90,000 each for the social worker and maintenance position, $36,000 for middle school sports and $6,000 for field trips — represents a 4.67 percent increase from the 2018-19 fiscal year. The $39.1 million budget without added services and staff would be a 4.07 percent increase, about $1.5 million more than the current academic year's $37.6 million budget.

"I'm leaving the board some ideas and asking for input," Pallin said. "Economically, this is one of the worst times for our state, but what I do believe is, it needs to be the best of times for our students."

Pallin said the budget as proposed would maintain small class sizes throughout the district while potentially adding items that parents had pushed for in recent budget forums and surveys. Many had requested an SAT preparation course for the high school, pay-to-play participation in middle school sports, more bus runs and increased social and emotional support for students.

Pallin noted that currently, the district's 2,000-plus students are served by just one social worker, which limits officials' ability to provide support and address emotional health, mental health and behavioral concerns. 

Officials also are considering calling for an additional custodial position, English language arts coach, security officers and another language at the high school in future years.

Pallin noted the district wants students to respect diversity, "and teaching just one language at the high school is not the best way to build that respect."

The past couple years, the district has offered early retirement incentives to cut staff through attrition, but Pallin said there are no longer teachers approaching retirement who wouldn't need to be replaced with new staff.

"We've been making a lot of tough decisions year after year," Board of Education Chairman Robert Mitchell said. "Now there's nothing else to reduce. We've been a very frugal school district but it's tough because we have to provide an excellent education. The board and administrators and outstanding staff do a lot of hard work to make that happen."

Pallin noted the high school graduation rate had increased from 86.7 percent to 94.6 percent over the last five years, disciplinary referrals steadily have decreased and the number of students meeting proficiency in math tests increased 18.5 percent over the last three years.

Mitchell noted the Board of Education will hold a budget forum at the Senior Center at 10 a.m. March 1, followed by a budget meeting at the high school library at 6 p.m. on March 5. The school board must vote on the budget by March 15, when it will then be considered by the Town Council as the town prepares the municipal budget.

b.kail@theday.com

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