Preston school board approves $12.26 million budget

Preston – The Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved a $12.26 million proposed school budget for 2019-20.

The budget calls for a 3.64 percent spending increase, including a new part-time school social worker and 2.5 new para-educator positions to assist with special education students.

The board will now present the $12,261,999 budget, $28,000 less than the total presented by Superintendent Roy Seitsinger, to the Board of Finance on April 11. The proposed budget is a $430,195 increase over this year’s $11.83 million budget, which needed three referendums and two rounds of cuts to be approved by voters last summer.

Prior to the start of Monday’s budget review and vote, the board voted unanimously to approve an early retirement incentive for eligible teachers.

Seitsinger said teachers’ eligibility would be based on state eligibility criteria, and teachers must have worked at least five years in Preston to be eligible. At least four teachers must accept early retirement for the Preston incentive program to go forward, Seitsinger said.

Seitsinger said three major categories are driving the proposed budget increases. Salaries would rise by $314,809 in part due to the 4.1 added positions, and health insurance costs would jump by $149,189, an 8 percent increase. The budget includes new contracts already approved with the school teachers’ union, with a 1.8 percent general wage increase and with school administrators who will receive a 2 percent increase.

The 4.1 added positions include one new part-time school social worker, 2.5 new para-educator positions and one new bus driver. Also, a half day would be added to the current part-time special education director and a full day added to the school psychologist, bringing that position from four days a week to five days. Seitsinger said the fifth day would be funded through the school system’s federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grant.

Seitsinger had proposed creating a part-time new social worker position last spring, and the board voted to make the position full time at a cost of $66,568. The board reluctantly removed the item after cuts were made following the referendum defeat. Seitsinger’s proposed 2019-20 budget contains $31,415 for the part-time social worker.

Board member Cindy Luty said she still would prefer the social worker to be full time.

“I strongly believe we need a full-time social worker,” Luty said. “Part-time is better than none, but you have to hope a crisis happens on a day when the social worker is here.”

Seitsinger said he proposed the half-time position, because of budget considerations. If approved, he expects the person “will prove their need” for future budgets.

Seitsinger placed the social worker and added hours for the special education director and the school psychologist under the category of social-emotional learning and stressed the urgency to the board in his presentation March 11 with the heading “If Not Now, When.” He said the town is in a healthy financial position and said he made a case to school board’s finance committee that “unequivocally articulates” the need for the new positions and added hours.

Seitsinger said some of the increases in the budget would be offset by decreases of some $36,000 in other categories, including $16,479 in high school tuition.

Preston school officials were criticized in the past few years for enacting universal preschool despite objections by the Board of Finance and some members of the public. With last year’s budget cuts, the program was reverted to a fee-based system. The program currently has 37 students in two classes, including five 3-year-olds identified with special needs enrolled at no cost to the families.

Seitsinger proposed no changes to the fee-based preschool program, and classroom teacher staffing would remain the same in the budget. The elementary and middle schools have average class sizes of about 20 students, but the two first-grade classes have 23 and 24 students.

c.bessette@theday.com

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