Norwich school board avoids staff cuts in budget

Norwich — The Board of Education took gambles Tuesday with several budget line items, including special education and bus fuel, to avoid cutting classroom teachers and reorganizing elementary schools by grade level.

The board was forced to cut $1,575,274 from its 2017-18 budget Tuesday after the City Council on Monday night limited the school budget to $76.18 million, a 1 percent increase over this year's total. The board started with a list of possible cuts outlined, but not recommended, by school administrators that included cutting 10 to 12 classroom teachers, cutting instructional supplies and replacing the school resource officer with a private security guard.

The biggest anticipated savings will come by launching a new in-house clinical special education program for seventh- and eighth-graders at Kelly Middle School. By bringing back about seven to eight special education students from out-of-district placements in specialty schools, the school system expects to save $600,000.

The school board heard a presentation Tuesday by New Jersey-based Effective School Solutions and voted to hire the group at a cost of $275,000 to run the program.

The listed budget cuts included $500,000 to cut 10 to 12 teaching positions, half at the Teachers Memorial Sixth Grade Academy and half by restructuring four elementary schools by grade level. But the board balked at those cuts. Board member Rashid Haynes instead proposed reducing the bus fuel budget by $250,000, the repairs budget by $15,000 and an account that pays for a myriad of technology and tech staffing in all schools by $150,000.

The board also cut $200,000 from the special education budget.

All the alternative cuts are gambles, and the school board will revisit the budget at a special meeting Aug. 8, three weeks before the start of school.

Business Administrator Athena Nagel said she already had cut transportation by $200,000 and shifted the money to cover an expected increase in special education costs. The board removed that shift in funding and still cut the fuel budget by $250,000.

The board also agreed to eliminate the one school resource officer at Kelly Middle School and instead hire a private security person for $45,000, a savings of $30,000.

Board member Dennis Slopak said he would rather cut the security person than the proposed $45,000 cut from the $342,500 instructional supplies budget that already had been cut by $182,440. But board members were uneasy about eliminating altogether a security officer at the 700-student school for seventh- and eighth-graders.

Several other cuts throughout the budget did not directly affect students, including an anticipated $300,000 in savings from 11 staff retirements and resignations with new employees expected to be hired at lower salaries.

c.bessette@theday.com

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