On Tuesday night the Board of Education voted to approve the budget. The vote was 5-4, along party lines. The approved budget represents a 4.05% increase over last year’s budget. The Superintendent originally proposed a 3.28% increase, but an amendment to the budget made last night by Leonard Lockhart to add $500,000 passed, again along party lines.
We voted against the budget, and we will address why in two separate posts. In this post we will discuss what was put into and cut from the budget, and how we feel this will impact the district. Part II will address some of the problems with the budget adoption process in general.
The Superintendent’s original proposed budget cut a number of positions that are already in place. One of the more controversial moves was cutting the residency officer position, the employee responsible for conduction an investigation when it appears a Windsor student’s family does not actually live in Windsor. The adopted budget did not restore this position, it only added $20,000 for residency investigations. The administration has yet to explain how residency investigations are going to be done without a full time employee in place to do them, or how this is a real cost savings measure, considering that in many years the amount saved as a result of the residency investigations covers the residency officers salary.
Probably the most controversial cut made by the Superintendent was the elimination of 24 paraprofessionals, including all 12 kindergarten paraprofessionals and 12 special education paraprofessionals. The amended budget only added 12 kindergarten paraprofessionals back into the budget – it did not restore the special education paraprofessionals. Also, the budget adds two additional kindergarten teachers, meaning that either two kindergarten classes will not have paraprofessionals, or paraprofessionals will be required to shift among classes throughout the day. We still do not see a commitment on the part of the administration to keeping kindergarten paraprofessionals in the classroom, and still have not received a full explanation as to how special education paraprofessionals will be cut, and how this will affect the students that they provide services to.
We heard over and over again throughout the budget process that budgeting is about making choices, and that difficult choices had to be made when developing this budget. But the choices that the administration made came down to cutting existing positions in order to add a muddled array of new positions and funding increases. For instance, while we were told that cutting paraprofessionals was necessary to keep costs down, somehow there was funding to add central office positions like an accountant and a communications and website specialist, extra time to a payroll position, fund Chromebooks for every student at the high school and fund an additional $100,000 to the Instructional Services line (the bulk of which will go to a scripted reading program that has not come before the Board, or even been identified yet). There were also additions to a number of line items that were justified on the basis that they have been “traditionally underfunded.” There are times when cuts are necessary in order to bring the total budget down to a number that the Board, Town Council, and ultimately the citizens through referendum will approve. But it does a disservice to the employees being cut to be told that it is necessary for financial reasons, and then add other positions and funding increases into the budget, especially when a number of those additions have nothing to do with student achievement.