FY 18-19 Budget Ideas, Question and Answers

Budget Ideas Questions & Answers
Posted on 02/09/2018

During the month of January community members and staff sent in ideas and suggestions for the budget. After research, the following are the answers to the questions and ideas.

A reminder there will be a RSD6 Budget Workshop Meeting on Monday, February 12, 2018, at 6:00 p.m. in the AgSci Conference Room @ WAMOGO.

Regards,

Chris


Q:  Does the district or any specific program apply for USDA rural revitalization funds?  There are several programs focused on agriculture funded by USDA, but there are other, less ag-tied funding opportunities through the USDA that could help to cover some of the capital expenses we have to consider. I have no idea what the "claw-back" on such funds might potentially be, but that is something that any committee considering such would definitely have to figure out.

A: We are currently looking at CSDE, USDA and USDoE grant opportunities for AgSci (ASTE). With each opportunity, there are required provisions. Some of the stated provisions prevent our application, and others come with long-term “claw-back” provisions that need a thorough review. We will continue to examine all potential opportunities but also ensure that state, or federal, grant funding is best for the short, and long, term interests of the district. As with any grant application, the district must make sustainable decisions.

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Q:  
Please look closely at classroom and general supplies in each school. 

A: The proposed budget will be made public on March 12, 2018. Previous budgets had too many expense categories for supplies (classroom and general). This caused confusion for everyone. The proposed budget will have a consolidation of these accounts and they will be aligned to student population. I.e. If a school has more students then it will receive greater funding for supplies then a school with fewer students. One practice we wish to also prevent is the past practice of buying and storing. We will always have purchase order for all items, signed receipt of delivery, stay within budget, and ensure fidelity to best accounting practices.

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Q: I remember going to many conferences in New York City, Florida, and other places around the country. I don’t believe that the teachers and other staff need to be traveling in order to get professional development. There are many valuable webinars, as well as the Ed camps which work beautifully to provide an outlet where teachers can share their vast knowledge.  The same idea applies for conferences where teachers go and are supposed to be learning new skills when really it turns into just a social affair.

A: In August, the Board of Education in collaboration with the teachers union (WEA) and administration created a policy for out-of-state professional development. This policy was accomplished to ensure that conferences were approved, were within budget, met the needs of the district, and the trip was aligned to instruction and goals. The policy also requires teachers who travel out of state to report back to my office on their out-of-state experience. There was a need for greater accountability and we are moving in that direction. This year we have done more Professional Development in district and reduced the number of out-of-state trips. The coming year budget will provide professional development allocations by school, by number of teachers, and continue our focus for in-house, in-state, work.

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Q:  I love books! I do know that every classroom, at least in Goshen, has a fully stocked classroom library. I also know that there’s a huge book room at Goshen Center School where there are sets of multiple copies for teachers to use during reading groups. I don’t think that adding additional money for classroom library supplies is needed.

A: Previous budgets did not have equitable, per pupil, allocations for classroom or library books. We will not add funds to these line items in the coming budget. We will consolidate and reallocate to school by need.

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Q: I am not sure when the next certified staff contract will be up for negotiation, however, it is definitely a good idea, and you may already be looking into this, to have the certified staff pay more for their health insurance.  I also think that if there is tuition reimbursement, that that can be removed from the employee contract.  

A: The certified teacher contract was ratified by the Board of Education in January. It will run from 2018-2021 and does include increases to the employee share for health insurance. Tuition reimbursement is a line item that has been overfunded in previous budgets. In the coming year it will meet contractual obligations and limits.

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Q:  I have used the Star assessment as a means of progress monitoring in the past, however it is an additional expense and it’s only used every six weeks. The school where I currently work uses something called Front Row. We pay for a subscription for each child and the platform mirrors, almost exactly, what the students will see on the smarter balanced assessment. We can have a benchmark in the fall and winter and then at the end of the year, but in the interim all of the students have access at home and in school to practice language arts and math. The data that are collected on an ongoing basis are used to help inform teachers’ decisions around appropriate lesson plans and interventions.

A: There are numerous products along the lines of assessment. I can’t, for obvious reasons, comment publicly about products or companies. There is always a concern when product is changed (as it takes time for training and new adult learning – all have unintended costs). I can say that this fall we increased our STAR performance benchmark from 50th percentile to the Smarter Balance Assessment level. Additionally, WAMOGO students now take the PSAT (which is better aligned to SAT). The reality is that we needed to better use data to inform instruction, acknowledge curriculum gaps, and personalize instruction. In short, better practice with the use of data and student need (like it sounds as if you are doing) not necessarily change the assessment tool.

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Q: It may be worthwhile to have the school in each town be rented out for functions, either public or private. Maybe we can market this so that it can be more lucrative.

A: There is a facility charge for usage. I like the marketing idea and the district will pursue this concept to help increase revenue for the coming year.

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Q: Grant writing is another huge source of potential income. It would be wise to encourage staff to apply for grants. Perhaps the financial person in central office could help share potential grant opportunities with all staff members.  

A: We are always looking at potential grant applications and share accordingly. With that said, I agree, we can do a better job of spreading the word to staff. Consider this on the list to accomplish for 2018-2019.

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Q: Looking at the current year budget, I noticed that there was a rather substantial amount of money budgeted for curriculum work. I’m not really sure what that entails, and I’m not really sure that it is necessary. As an employee of Region 6,I spent many hours writing curriculum for a fair amount of money, and then the curriculum would be changed. I think that it makes sense to have administrators work on the curriculum so that it is aligned with common core state standards.  This could be part of their duties, and it would relieve the expense of hiring staff members to do this work for an additional charge.  

A: Similar to the classroom and general supplies, the curriculum development lines are being consolidated. Additionally, these funds will be reviewed thoroughly to ensure that the budgeted amount is in line with the curricular needs that have been identified through the curriculum review cycle process. The cost of curriculum development is driven by both internal and external factors such as state mandates or the addition of new course. We believe that teachers and administrators both play a critical role in curriculum development and this collaboration is considered best practice. 

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Q: I did notice that there was a substantial amount of money in the budget for police. I’m not really sure what that number includes. I definitely believe in keeping our school safe, and I believe that the staff is trained very well to keep the students safe. I don’t know that $11,000 is worth whatever you’re getting. 

A:  While security and safety of our students is always a priority this is an area of review for the 2018-2019 budget. In reality it was higher than $11,000 when multiple line items were reviewed. In the coming year this will be adjusted down to our realistic need.

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Q: I am not sure that my budget questions or suggestions would save the district money; however, I do feel that we need to look at the middle school budget and allocate money for programming. 

A: In the coming budget there are reallocations based on enrollment. WAMOGO will have a greater share of resources based on its enrollment in comparison to other schools. This will provide principal and staff control to allocate instructional, or program, supplies as needed. I agree that Middle School needs to be a priority.

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Q:  A question that comes to mind would be:  The cost of special education continues to increase each year and is a bulk of the budget.  How will Region 6 guarantee that direct services for students with special needs remain intact?  Is there a plan to reduce staff, such as paraprofessionals, who provide these direct services?  Will class sizes increase?  What is a ratio of regular education and special education students in a classroom to balance the ability to meet needs of all students?

A: The number of Special Education students in Region 6 and throughout the state continues to rise.

Year  Number of Special Education Students
 2013-2014  111
 2014-2015  108
 2015-2016  118
 2016-2017  126
 2017-2018  152


The district student:teacher ratio in special education is 13:1 and there is no intention to change that number or reduce special education staff. 

Ratio of regular education:special education students varies by grade, class and school.  We have added Co-Taught classes at the elementary and middle school level for classes with a higher regular education:special education ratio.  This allows all students to have the benefit of two teachers supporting students to meet their learning targets. 

The district is proud of its Special Education program and only has one out-of-district placement. We have “life skills” programs at JMS and WAMOGO. Additionally, we offer an Alternative Education program at WAMOGO that has drawn interest from other districts. Special Education in RSD6 is a model for shared services and effective practices. This year, I began the process with HR of reviewing job descriptions and came to find out that not every employee had a job description. Further, not everyone who had a paraprofessional position was directly servicing students. That practice has been coming to an end throughout the year. There will be a reduction of paraprofessional staff in the coming budget but it is not reflective of student need. It is an alignment to actual student need and direct service. We will never again use a paraprofessional for purposes other than as intended - direct service.

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Q: Concerning ways of saving money for the success and future of the Warren school. I could see how we could share our principal with another school. We could also have our nurse answer the phone. I love being greeted with three persons (our Principal, Nurse and Administration lady) as soon as I enter the Warren school but I can also see that it is not sustainable.

A: The first part of this question was raised in one of the town meetings. The sharing of administration requires a “Reduction in Force (RIF).”  This then causes a process known in education as “bumping.” You are not sharing the same people and contractual changes would impact three of the four schools and no less than four positions (administration and teaching). For continuity, and because of the impact of bumping, the shared concept doesn’t work and the savings is at best a .5 FTE (aprox $35K).  I am doing further research on shared front office positions and expect to include a suggested change in the 2018-2019 budget. 

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Q: Concerning Tech Education hands on class, do we have a teacher and a class proposed to the middle school? I remember my son at the beginning of the school year telling me he would like the class but we did not have a teacher.

A:  The district searched all summer and into the fall for a .4 Tech Education teacher and despite having a finalist we lost out to another district. This is one of the hardest positions in the state to fill (there are just not enough new people going into the specific field).  We are going to offer an after-school opportunity this spring for our students interested in Tech Ed. Additionally, we are looking at a cooperative, shared position, with Litchfield Public Schools for 2018-2019.

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Q1: Now, the big question about consolidation or closing at school. I do believe that in order to do that we would have to open the town charters, and it’s not likely that, especially the people in Warren would be willing to change the town charter which states that each town must have its own school.  I would definitely continue to press this issue. I know that it’s been an idea that’s been passed around for many years. At this point it does not make sense to keep Warren School open, especially since we already own a parcel of land next to WAMOGO that can be used to potentially build a new consolidated school.  

A1: You are correct a consolidation, or closing, would require each of the three towns to independently approve revision to the RSD6 charter. Running three elementary schools does not make fiscal sense. 

Beyond finance there are also many other factors in the choice process. I will present detailed savings at the February 12th workshop.   Building a new facility (the shared sacrifice concept floated several years ago) would require the district to take on additional debt service and can not be recommended. The annual debt from such a building project would be in the neighborhood of $3.5M for 20 years (depending on rates and terms). This would represent 20% of the RSD6 local budget and would not be sustainable considering current debt, long-term capital needs, ownership of elementary buildings and clawback provisions for recent roof projects.

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Q2: We may also consider increasing our region to include other towns such as Thomaston or Cornwall. I know there is always an ongoing rivalry between Region six and Litchfield, however at some point it would likely be prudent for us to consolidate with them.  As an educator I don’t believe that it is academically or socially sound for students to be in classes with only one or two other students.

A2: Our smallest class (when removing multi-age) is currently 8 students in the 6th grade at JMS. I agree that consolidation is in the best interest for the social / emotional development of students. With respect to Thomaston, or Cornwall, that is not currently on the radar (one is not an interest and the second has its own charter in a regional district).  There is no more rivalry with Litchfield (I think that predates me) and cooperative discussions have been underway since the fall. We are hopeful to share classes and opportunities for the coming year. I am excited about the two Boards of Education (RSD and LPS) holding a joint-committee for the purposes of collaboration. RSD6 still needs to address our own internal structural issues (see above) but anything is possible in time.

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Q3: As much as I think the idea of multi age classrooms works, I do believe that the students in Warren School would benefit from being with like-aged peers. I also wonder if there’s a possibility of making each school a different grade level so there’s an intermediate school, an elementary school and then a middle high school.  Maybe there is a possibility of moving Central Office to Warren. I also believe that you could probably consolidate administrators. It would be worthwhile checking into having administrators who are shared between two schools.

A3: I will be discussing Warren at the Budget Workshop on February 12 and doing further town meetings in March. This spring I plan to present the BOE with options regarding Warren.
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Q: I know the value of early intervention for readers who struggle. I also value the idea that students who are talented and gifted need intervention in the form of enrichment. However, I don’t really think that the budget needs to include extra money for a talented and gifted program, especially if there is a stipend for a staff member to support that program. I think that there are many free online resources that could be used to make a talented and gifted program work.

A: I believe that all students (those that struggle and those that are identified at talented and gifted (TAG) should receive enrichment opportunities. There is a re-purpose of TAG funds coming in the 2018-2019 budget. There is an opportunity in our current resources to provide extended enrichment for all students across grades 3-8.