Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon board grapples with budget cuts; Town says it will pick up some of the tab

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 11, 2008

VERNON - With a directive from the mayor to slice more than half a million dollars from its budget, the Board of Education on Monday began the painful process by tabling a proposal to redesign the kindergarten program at Maple Street School and cutting middle school athletics and high school freshman sports.

In February the school board adopted a $46.34 million budget proposal for the 2008-09 fiscal year, which increased spending by 4.96 percent, or $2.19 million, over the current $44.15 million fiscal plan.

It was a significant reduction from School Superintendent Richard Paskiewicz's initial proposal of $47.33 million, which restored all-day kindergarten at all elementary schools and continued to fund two full-day kindergarten sections at Maple Street School after the $100,000 grant runs out at the end of this year.

When Mayor Jason L. McCoy released the town budget last week, however, he directed the schools to trim an additional $675,569, saying he likely could find money on the town side of spending for some school programs.

The adopted school budget still includes $100,000 for a full-day kindergarten program at Maple Street. But McCoy has suggested instead financing extended-day kindergarten - which is roughly an hour longer than a part-time, two-hour morning or afternoon session - using rental fees paid by the YMCA for its after-school program.

According to school board Chairwoman Catherine Rebai, that revenue should amount to roughly $41,000 next year.

"We're still talking about this," she said of the proposal.

Items cut Monday that also could be financed through town administered accounts include $87,532 for computer equipment, which the school contributes funds to each year anyway.

Another $44,400 for blackboards and $30,000 for monitoring oil tank lines were subtracted, but will be financed instead through the non-recurring capital fund.

The school board also cut $84,900 for math textbooks, but McCoy told board members he could find money on the town side for that as well.

"We're replacing textbooks that are 14 years old, and he said that should come from taxpayers," Republican board member and budget subcommittee chairman George Apel said.

According to Paskiewicz, those reductions should have "no hurt factor" as it's believed funding would come from the town side of the budget

Cuts include: a part time custodial position; $89,071 in various paraprofessional positions, some which will remain unfilled while others could mean layoffs; $30,000 in administrative reductions including delay in filling the superintendent of assessment and grants spot, changing the language arts and social studies coordinator position from 12 to 11 months, and delay filling the elementary reading specialist position.

Also, keyboarding was spiked at Vernon Center Middle School for a savings of $19,577, while another $5,000 was found through teacher replacements.

The school board voted down two of Paskiewicz's recommended cuts: to not fill a retiring elementary school position and save $58,942, likely increasing student-teacher ratio, and eliminate $90,000 worth of teaching and paraprofessional positions at the high school.

Three items totaling $76,882 in cuts were shelved for further discussion - eliminating all-day kindergarten at Maple Street School and instead offering extended day, eliminating interscholastic sports at the middle school, and eliminating freshman sports at the high school.

The budget subcommittee also made recommendations - cut a fifth-grade teaching position at Maple Street for a savings of $58,000, eliminate a new mandated in-school suspension program at the high school for $49,684, and remove funding of $31,500 for a high school career center facilitator. But Paskiewicz called the proposals damaging and could not support them.

"We're trying to do the least harm here," he said.

According to school Director of Business and Finance Stan Karasinski, the board cut a total of $477,278, leaving an additional $198,291 to trim to reach the mayor's goal.

Apel said the subcommittee would be meeting again on Sunday to look over the tabled items.

"We're looking into how many students would be affected by eliminating these programs," Apel said, referring to the sports. "But I'm extremely pleased with the administration.

They did a wonderful job with sharpening their pencils and making cuts with affecting programs."It's going to start getting difficult, though," he added. "This is not small amounts of money we're talking about."

Roughly 85.2 percent of the budget is dedicated to fixed or contracted costs and can't be touched.

According to Karasinski, once the cuts are made, contracted salaries account for 68 percent of the budget, while benefits are another 13.5 percent. Skyrocketing energy costs for heat, electricity, and transportation, meanwhile, should account for 3.7 percent, he said.

Total student enrollment in Vernon as of Feb. 1 is 3,648 students. State officials say enrollment should rebound next year. Two years ago enrollment totaled 3,936 students.

According to the latest state figures, per pupil spending in Vernon is slightly below the state average.

©Journal Inquirer 2008