PLYMOUTH - The Board of Education moved to restore several positions to the school budget last month after the state budget passed, but was forced to rescind all but one of them after state aid to the district was cut again.
“The budget discussion in Connecticut has been a total mess this year and is causing a great deal of stress throughout the system,” said Superintendent Martin Semmel.
Back in October, the board decided to lay off five staff members, move three literacy coaches to fill some of the positions, and leave some empty positions unfilled, to save some $685,000 to put into a contingency fund. The move was made as the state’s ongoing inability to pass a budget threatened to devastate the town’s school budget.
It had looked like the district might lose its entire $9.7 million Education Cost Sharing grant, which makes up 40 percent of the school budget. The state legislature finally passed a budget in late October with only a $600,000 loss of aid to Plymouth’s school budget, so the board on Nov. 15 voted to restore several of the positions by taking $106,938 from the contingency fund.
However, a few days later Gov. Dannel Malloy announced further cuts in state aid to education, which meant Plymouth would lose an additional $800,000.
“So, given this new set of information, we’re working with the mayor right now and we’ll be going to the December Board of Education meeting to say here’s what we think are the most prudent steps to take,” said Semmel.
“It’s unsettling and what’s even more unsettling is if the town’s tax revenues don’t come in as they had budgeted for. We could be looking at additional cuts to our schools this year. So it’s gotten to be a very frustrating and disappointing year in terms of what we could do for our kids.”
The one position that will be restored is Martin Sandshaw as energy conservation specialist, at a cost of $13,800 for the rest of the school year. Sandshaw has saved the schools a lot of money over the years and the contract with the energy conservation consulting company Cenergistic mandates the district have someone on staff paying attention to energy usage, Semmel explained.
As for the other positions that now will not be restored, Semmel had listed hiring a library media specialist for the high school, at $46,000, as the No.1 priority - because not having one could jeopardize the school’s accreditation.
“We’re confident we’re not going to be losing our accreditation this year,” he said. “I’m going to stress that this position has to come back the soonest it can, but it’s not likely to happen now until the beginning of the 18-19 school year. The accreditation group won’t be coming through until 19-20 or 20-21.
“But my point is we want that person there because it’s good for our kids.”
Other positions that will not be restored include a part-time custodian at Eli Terry Jr. Middle School, at a cost of $10,000; a literacy tutor at the high school, at a cost of $10,764; and a full-time in-school suspension monitor at the middle school, at a cost of $12,500.
At Eli Terry the custodial staff has been taking care of all the primary things that need to be cleaned, but the teachers’ classrooms are not getting cleaned each night, he said.
The district formerly had an in-school suspension monitor at the high school all five days and one at the middle school for five days, but now the high school person works two days a week at the middle school, Semmel continued.
Other funding would have been restored for field trips and for a paraprofessional who would have otherwise been paid for by having to take money from the district’s Medicaid reimbursement fund. The board has managed to further cut costs by reducing the assistant principal position at the middle school to a dean of students position, which is considered a teacher rather than an administrator, Semmel said. The new dean is Nicole Walsh, a former literacy teacher.
“Her move to the dean position allowed me to move Stephanie Colella into the literacy teacher position. Finally, with Ms. Colella moving back into her literacy role I am able to recall Ms. Nicole Putnam to her role as sixth-grade math teacher. As you can see, the state budget made things more complicated this year to manage and the news [about the further state cuts] just complicated things further,” Semmel wrote in a recent newsletter to staff and parents.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @coricaBP.