PLYMOUTH – The 2018-19 school budget proposal has been changed to a 0.09 percent increase over the current year and will be presented to the Board of Finance on March 15.
The Board of Education approved a first draft of the budget with a 0.05 percent increase in January, which was adjusted as additional costs and savings became clearer. Recently it approved the new version, which is $24,235,436, with board members Gerard Bourbonniere and Josiah Elsaghir voting against it.
With earlier deadlines imposed by changes to the Town Charter, Superintendent Martin Semmel said he had to give the budget to the finance board last week, but he will give a formal presentation explaining it in March, when the finance board members will be asking questions and make their decision about it.
Then it will go to the Town Council, or to a referendum, depending on what the council wants to do, he said.
Semmel explained that adjustments since January include: a decrease of $52,500 in regular transportation costs, but an increase of $17,940 in diesel fuel costs, $8,000 in magnet school transportation, and $37,000 in special education transportation. The net change is an additional $10,440 in costs.
Still, he said, “it’s essentially a $24 million budget, almost no increase at all.”
The budget proposal already factors in a $320,000 increase in estimated insurance costs, he continued. “So in fact we’ve had to find $300,000 of cuts in order to get where we are here.”
Back in January, he was assuming a 14 percent increase in insurance costs but with plan design changes that would reduce that to a 10 percent. Then the plan they actually got back from Anthem showed a 17 percent increase, which plan design changes would reduce to a 13 or 14 percent increase.
Semmel said insurance costs are a difficult piece to figure out and he expects to have a more accurate number prior to his March presentation to the finance board.
In the meantime, state aid is still very much in flux, with the governor proposing another $800,000 cut in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) for Plymouth next year, he said. “We are slated right now to get about $9.7 million in ECS funds for next year, but we know what happened this year, so I think it’s foolish to assume we are going to get all that money and put ourselves in a difficult situation.”
Semmel said State Sen. Henri Martin and State Rep. Whit Betts are opposed to any more cuts in aid so he urged parents and staff to let them know their thoughts on the issue.
Budget cuts the board made this year that Semmel 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 has previously 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.
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 has said.
Semmel’s 2018-19 budget presentations are available on the school district website https://plymouth.k12.ct.us/board_of_education/budget_information/.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.