PLYMOUTH – The first draft of the 2018-19 school budget is just a 0.05 percent increase over the current year.
Superintendent Martin Semmel unveiled the draft to the Board of Education recently, saying the $24,224,996 budget is an attempt “balance the needs of our students with the fiscal realities of the state and our town.”
For next year, he is asking for a $12,000 increase but considering he is anticipating a $320,400 increase in health care costs, “that means we’ve actually cut $308,000 out of our budget.”
Semmel also noted that the state has allocated $9.7 million for Plymouth schools next year but it’s impossible to know if that money will remain in the state budget.
Budget cuts the board made this year he hopes to restore next year include $83,206 for a library media specialist for Terryville High School, $25,000 for a facilities utilization study, $20,000 for a part-time custodian at Eli Terry Jr. Middle School, $15,000 for Connecticut Association of Boards of Education membership, $12,500 for an in school suspension monitor at Eli Terry, and $4,400 for the Unified Sports program.
The library media specialist is a priority not just because it’s an important position but because the New England Association of Schools and Colleges requires it for the high school to maintain its accreditation, Semmel said.
The facilities study is needed because the district must look at its infrastructure needs five years down the road, to avoid just springing closing a school on people to fill budget gap, he said.
Two ways the proposed budget would cut expenses is by eliminating two full-time teachers at Plymouth Center Elementary School, saving $62,921; and reducing the French teacher at THS from full-time to part-time, saving $20,618.
Plymouth Center has just 23 first graders this year instead of the 27 that were expected, Semmel said. “The number for reducing those two teachers includes unemployment costs. If those teachers find jobs then we don’t have to pay unemployment, so those savings would be more.”
More THS students take Spanish than French, so instead five sections of French only three sections are needed, he added.
Notable new items in the proposed budget include: $54,000 for two special education teachers, $45,000 for Chromebook replacements, $42,000 for special education paraprofessionals, $25,000 for a new financial software system, $16,160 for installing more wireless access points in the schools, $11,875 for classroom computer replacements, $10,200 for a new Readers & Writers Workshop for seventh graders, and $4,000 for Teacher Education And Mentoring (TEAM) stipends for beginning teacher certification training.
The district is pushing to save money by keeping more special education students in district, but that requires more support staff, Semmel said. “One of those two teachers would be going full-time at Fisher, a half-time would go to Plymouth Center and a half-time would go to Eli Terry.”
“It’s only $54,000 because one of those teachers would be paid out of the [federal] IDEA grant,” he noted.
The financial software program is important because the district should use the same software as the town, he said. “Currently we work off different systems. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to do that.”
The state used to pay for TEAM certification, but now it’s a defunded mandate, he added.
Semmel said the primary increase in costs for 2018-19 comes from health insurance, however he expects there will be savings in certified salaries, administrative salaries, early retirements, special education outplacements, elementary textbooks, and other areas over the current year.
On the bright side, “in all this cutting we’re able to add AP Politics and Government for our grade 10 students next year, we’re able to keep class sizes at reasonable levels, we’re able to add the seventh grade Readers & Writers Workshop,” he said.
“A lot of this is because we’re reaping the benefits of some difficult decisions,” he continued. These include moving the central office from the old Main Street School to THS last summer, incentivizing early retirements, installing solar panels at all the schools, and bringing the food service program back in house.
The board will meet for a budget workshop Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m., in the Terryville High School library, and again on Wednesday, Jan. 24, if needed.
With earlier deadlines imposed by changes to the Town Charter, this year the board will have to approve the budget by Wednesday, Feb. 14, in order to present it on time at Town Hall on Thursday, Feb. 15.
Semmel’s 2018-19 budget presentation is available on the school district website https://plymouth.k12.ct.us/board_of_education/budget_information/.
Semmel: Per pupil spending is on point
By SUSAN CORICA
PLYMOUTH – In making his case for the proposed 2018-19 school budget, Superintendent Martin Semmel said Plymouth spending on its schools compares favorably with the state average and other comparable districts.
The state median in net current expenditures per pupil is $16,992 for 2016-17. Plymouth’s per pupil expenditure is $14,526.
“In 14-15 we were $2,000 below the state median, in 15-16 we were $2,200 below the state median, in 16-17 we were $2,466,” he said. “I believe if we had data for 17-18 it would be an even greater disparity. So we’re trying to do as much as we can with the money we’re given.”
“We are almost at the bottom of our DRG group,” Semmel said, referring to the District Reference Group of Connecticut school districts with similar demographics.
Plymouth is in DRG F, which includes Windsor Locks, which spends $19,300.
“I talk about Windsor Locks because it’s a lot like us,” he said. “No offense to Windsor Locks but we’re outperforming them academically. We’re not just using the money efficiently, we’re using it well.”
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or email@example.com.