Lyme-Old Lyme school board announces savings in proposed preschool program

The Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education announced last week that the proposed preschool program will cost $90,000 less than expected after bids for planned preschool classroom renovations came in far less than estimated.

Superintendent Ian Neviaser called the development positive news, especially in the wake of concerns raised by residents over the proposed cost of the program.

Originally proposed to cost $388,000, the preschool program will now cost the district approximately $295,000 in the 2019-20 budget after the board voted to hire Frank Zaino & Associates of North Stonington Wednesday for $87,437 to make the  needed preschool classroom renovations.

The board originally estimated the renovations would cost $180,000. Another $208,000 has been budgeted to cover staffing for the program.

Renovation bids came in lower than anticipated because certain finishes planned for the floors and ceilings were eliminated to save money. Construction is expected to begin July 1.

Aside from those savings, Neviaser also said at a school board meeting last week that he expects further savings from retirement and insurance next year, saving the district a total of $335,664.

Because of those savings the board approved changes to its proposed budget, adding an additional kindergarten section at Mile Creek School due to higher-than-expected enrollment numbers for next year, as well as additional physical education classes at the school. One music teacher’s full-time position also will be preserved at the school.

The board had previously called to reduce that teacher’s position to part time next year because of an expected classroom reduction at Mile Creek, causing some parents to worry that the preschool proposal was taking away funding from existing art and music programs.

Neviaser has tried to reassure residents during both an informational session about the program last month and at last week’s budget hearing, that cuts have not been made to art and extracurricular programs.

“There are no cuts to any programs, whether it be curricular or extracurricular programs,” Neviaser reiterated Sunday.

Despite the savings, residents will still vote on a proposed $35 million education budget, which shows a 2.29 percent increase, in May.

One reason is that the education board must pay an additional $95,000 toward teachers’ pensions next year.

Neviaser told The Day last week that should some of that money not be spent throughout next year, it will be returned to both Lyme and Old Lyme as a credit to be used toward the schools in the future. Annually, he said, the district returns about $700,000 to $1 million back to Lyme and Old Lyme.

Residents expressed concern about the upcoming vote at last week’s district budget hearing, saying they felt their concerns would be ignored even if the budget was voted down in May and worried the board could decide to cut from extracurricular programs.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean other things will be cut,” school board Chairwoman Michelle Roche said in response last week. “Most of the increase in our budget is tied to contractual salaries and benefits. The proposed preschool expansion program is just a tiny part of our budget."

"I don’t like to see the community so focused on one aspect of our $35 million budget, because there are so many other moving parts,” Roche said.

Should residents vote down the proposed $35 million education budget, however, Neviaser has said he would not recommend “reducing classroom services” in a new budget proposal. He has said that the proposed preschool program would be considered a classroom service, but that the school board would have the final say.

At last week's budget hearing, even after Neviaser announced the expected savings in the preschool program, some parents still continued to raise concerns, asking if it was a necessity and whether it would impact local private preschools such as the Grasshopper Green Preschool and the Old Lyme Children’s Learning Center.

Neviaser has said that he has sought to collaborate with those two schools to establish before and after school preschool programs as the Lyme-Old Lyme program will only run from 8:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. Monday through Friday. Both expressed interest, Neviaser said, with the Grasshopper Green Preschool in a position to move forward with the idea and the Old Lyme Children’s Learning Center “waiting to see what happens.”

Other residents asked if the proposed universal preschool program could be extended to three-year-old classrooms, while others expressed support for the proposed program, saying their children have greatly benefited from the already-existing program.

Lyme and Old Lyme are scheduled to vote on the district’s education budget on May 7.

m.biekert@theday.com

Editor's Note: One music teacher’s full-time position also will be preserved at the school. That information was incorrect in an earlier version.

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