New London school superintendent presents $72 million budget

New London — Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie has proposed a $72.1 million education budget for fiscal year 2020-21 that calls for a 2% increase in spending.

Ritchie said the budget is fiscally responsible while maintaining a focus on student achievement.

The budget proposal, Ritchie’s second since she was hired to lead the district in 2018, comes with fewer changes when compared to the restructuring that accompanied last year’s budget when new positions were created and administrators moved out of long-held positions.

“You will notice very few proposed changes in staffing as we are just beginning to live in our new structure of district-wide departments and accompanying support teams,” Ritchie said in an email.

The budget maintains last year’s addition of new directors in the areas of curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development, along with “school-level supports,” in the areas of attendance, climate, equity and restorative practices.

The proposed budget would require City Council approval of $44.78 million in spending from the city’s general fund, a $1.2 million, or 2.7% increase above current funding. More than half of that money comes from city taxpayers and the remainder from the state’s educational cost sharing program.

A $27.3 million portion of the school district budget is funded through state and federal grants and is not considered by the city council.

Ritchie first presented the proposal to the school board last week and plans a second meeting on Thursday. The presentation sets into motion a series of budget meetings before it is approved and sent along to Mayor Michael Passero as he prepares the overall city budget.

School Board President Regina Mosley said she would reserve judgment on the proposal until after Ritchie finishes her presentation on Thursday, but her initial impression was “so far, so good.”

Mosley said that most of the increases contained in the budget appeared to be fixed costs such as contractual obligations and health insurance increases. The budget accounts for any raises specified in recently-approved contracts with the custodial and non-certified teachers unions.

The contracts were not immediately available but school board Vice President Jeffery Hart said the contracts were generally between 2% and 2.5% increases. The projected 8 percent increase in health insurance costs was one of the main drivers of the proposed budget hike.

“I think it’s a very reasonable request,” Hart said. “It’s obviously a need-based request.”

The budget is published online on the school district’s website where a form is available for the public to ask questions. The district is also using social media, emails, coffee hours and robocalls to share information. Ritchie moved away from school-based budgeting last year and introduced distroct-based budgeting.

The budget funds 652 full-time equivalent positions comprised of 403 certified and 249 non-certified staff. The district had 3,391 students as of October, including 557 special education students and 736 English Language Learners.

The district draws students from 37 different towns to its international education, arts and STEM pathways.

Ritchie said the lone unfilled Cabinet-level position in the district is the executive director of human resources. Deluca Advisory Services, which performed a human resources audit in the district, was hired with an attorney to run the department and “ensure excellence in all Human Resources practices,” Ritchie said.

The district and past hiring practices has come under scrutiny by the state Office of the Child Advocate in the wake of a sexual assault scandal that led to the arrest of two employees at the middle school.

The human resources position is expected to be posted later this month and Ritchie said she hopes to recruit someone with a strong human resources background who is also an attorney.

“We have completed amazing work building systems, structures, updating policies and procedures throughout our Human Resource department,” Ritchie said. “We hope to serve as a model for others with our deep focus on improvements and I am grateful for the expertise that I found and utilized to help get us there.”

g.smith@theday.com

 

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