Groton Board of Education approves budget with 0.64% increase

Groton — The Board of Education, in a 6-2 vote Monday, approved a 2020-21 budget of $77,934,550, which represents about a $496,000, or 0.64%, increase over the current year's budget.

Superintendent Michael Graner said in a phone interview that as soon as he submitted in early January his proposed budget of $78,710,628, or a 1.6% increase, the board met at least once a week and reviewed it line by line.

The superintendent's proposal included a consolidation of the middle school faculty, as the town will go from two middle schools to one next year with the opening of the new Groton Middle School. But after analyzing the details in recent weeks, school officials found there could be a greater reduction in the number of middle school teaching positions next year.

Once school officials ran the details of the schedule, they realized they could consolidate the middle schoolers into three teams per grade, which would allow the district to use staff most efficiently, Graner said. A total of 15 teaching positions would be reduced under the plan.

That means a cost avoidance of $885,000 in the teacher salary account, or a 1.5% decrease from that category in the current year's budget, he said. That category typically increases each year.

"We've been able to reduce staff and maintain class size," he said.

Graner said that due to an early retirement incentive the board is offering and some current middle school teachers who plan to teach next year at the high school level or elementary school level, there will be almost no — if any — layoffs.

The district plans to finalize the staffing plan by mid-March, he said.

The tuition the district pays for students who attend magnet schools in the area is another factor that reduced the proposed budget. Graner said the plan for the new Groton Middle School is attracting many students to return to the district. And some will be returning next year due to the planned closure of the Dual Language & Arts Magnet Middle School in Waterford.

School officials will continue to monitor the number of children expected to return to the district, he said.

Graner said the highlights of the budget include maintaining class sizes, supporting all academic, extracurricular and athletic activities, and upgrading and maintaining technology across the district, including the computer program at the high school.

He said the vote was a culmination of many months of work, and he thinks the board felt comfortable that the budget meets the needs of children and is responsible to taxpayers.

"It’s a modest increase — less than 1% — but we really get a lot of good services and equipment and materials for the children," Graner said.

Graner said he sent the budget numbers to the town manager on Tuesday morning. Town officials are slated to receive the full education budget book by mid-March.

k.drelich@theday.com

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