Restoring instructional leadership to ensure an integrated delivery of K-12 curriculum was a top choice for new programming the K-L district administration and board of education would pursue next year—if they had the money available.
The idea was one of several discussed at a recent meeting where school officials started to prioritize program ideas in the context of today’s budget realities. This Thursday night the board plans to revisit those goals and fine-tune them for the administration, according to Mark Lipton, board president.
Other items on the school officials’ “wish list” included: Extending the state-mandated Response-to-Intervention program—which tracks the progress of students from K-6 throughout the year and provides extra help to students who need it—to the 7th and 8th grade, and implementing a full-day kindergarten program.
Standing in the way of these programmatic goals is a limit on budget growth under the state mandated tax cap of $1.3 million, according to Michael Jumper, assistant superintendent of business. He cautioned the board that programs they desired were likely not affordable.
“We need to spend time talking about what we are going to reduce in order to get these,” he said. “It’s all very admirable—and I’m an advocate of all of it—but quite honestly, you can’t do it.”
Jumper reviewed the major forces working against the budget, including a higher-than-anticipated spike in contributions to both the teacher and employee retirement systems.
The teacher retirement system employer contribution rate is expected to increase from 11.84 percent to 15 percent and the employee retirement system contribution rate from 18.9 percent to 20.9 percent. Plus, health insurance may increase by 9 percent.
Add $700,000 in salary step increases and the district is at a "structural deficit" of $1.45 million—meaning the total expenditures minus the allowable increase leaves the district in almost a million-and-a-half-dollar hole, prior to new programs being considered.
New mandates including the common core curriculum, the Annual Performance Process Review (APPR) and the Student Dignity Act—which all affect how teachers and administrators spend their time and add on involuntarily to the district, said Superintendent of Schools, Paul Kreutzer.
"These place our desires in a holding pattern," said Kreutzer, noting that the district was now feeling the affects of losing 100 positions over the last four years.
Jumper estimated that the budget the administration would present to the school board next February would be roughly $114 million—about one million more than this year’s budget. As the administration prepared to give district leadership budget guidelines, he and Kreutzer requested that the board identify current programmatic areas that were “off limits.”
“When all is said and done…to stay within the limits of the tax cap…we’ll protect the program as best we can but there are going to be items that we’re going to come to you with that you will have a hard time supporting,” said Jumper.
Kreutzer said some savings could potentially be gained from this year’s collective bargaining process with teachers, support staff and administrators.
“I believe in this budget we will have colleagues who will work with us to bring expenses and revenue more closely together. People are motivated to work with us,” he said. “There are good people here who want to see this district succeed.”
Closing an elementary school was also discussed as a way to save money and preserve programs.
Board member Janet Harckham said she wanted to take a realistic view on new programming and work on initiatives that would make a positive impact on a large swath of the student population.
“I don’t feel like ‘pie-in-the-skying’ with my vision—I want to look at the parameters and the structure within which we have to work. We need to service the kids the best way we can and full day kindergarten will keep us in line with comparable districts. We are now starting our kids off at a deficit without it," she said.
Also on Thursday's agenda is a review of a community survey and a presentation by district social worker Wendy Bucaj on the peer mediation program in place at Lewisboro and Increase Miller elementary schools.