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New Milford superintendent proposes $65 million budget

January 23, 2019

NEW MILFORD — The interim superintendent is asking for more than $65 million to cover the next school budget, which translates to a 3.26 percent increase from this year’s budget.

The $2 million increase is largely due to personnel costs, transportation and capital items, as well as around $184,000 less in state revenue and removing pay to play, which generates $110,000, interim Superintendent Stephen Tracy told the school board at Tuesday’s budget workshop.

Tracy said he crafted the budget with four priorities in mind — chief of which is to attract and retain high-level teachers.

“If we don’t get that right, everything else is an uphill battle,” he said.

Part of this is covered by the 3 percent salary increases, which were negotiated and on par with other districts in the area. Tracy said New Milford ranks high with attracting new teachers, but isn’t as competitive for teachers with more experience.

“It’s important we remain competitive so we can attract and retain good people in the classrooms,” Tracy said.

The other priorities are to improve instruction, enhance special education services and invest in the facilities.

To do this, Tracy proposes adding a director of curriculum and instruction who will deal with assessments, identify areas that need improvement and work with teachers to implement the curriculum. It would add head teachers for each level of the elementary schools. A $3,000 stipend would be paid for each of the six positions.

He recommends adding a special education supervisor for preK-5. Only one supervisor for the high school and administrator oversees the district’s special education. Tracy said this will translate to about 190 students per supervisor, which is still higher than the area’s general ratio.

The budget includes $95,000 more for facilities. Of that, 60 percent is for custodial salary increases, 27 percent more for utilities and 13 percent for other non-personnel costs.

School officials expect significant savings in health insurance with the switch to the state plan next year. They expect to have a cost avoidance of $740,000, based on what the increase would have been had the distract and town not changed plans.

This budget removes one first-grade and two second-grade teachers at Hill and Plain Elementary School and one fifth-grade teacher at Sarah Noble Intermediate School due to declining enrollment. A reserve teacher is included at Northville Elementary School, which is located in the part of town that has seen the most growth, but could be used at any of the three schools based on enrollment over the summer. An English language teacher will be added at Sarah Noble.

“We have to be really careful about these enrollment numbers because there is the potential for flux,” board member J.T. Schemm said.

The class sizes will still be below the class-size guidelines adopted by the school board and New Milford Education Association.

Tracy said he’s not proposing any changes at Schaghticoke Middle School, though it’s expected to have the biggest enrollment decrease with 47 fewer students. The school uses a team-teaching model and a change would have to eliminate an entire team or abandon the model.

A vacant vocational position at the high school will not be filled but a bilingual teacher, which is required by law, will be added, offsetting it.

There is also $411,500 proposed for capital items. This includes about $215,000 for technology updates, including computers, smart boards and Chrome books. The remaining $196,600 is for facilities upgrades. Of this, $322,500 would come from the capital reserve, which is the same amount as this year. The rest will be included in the operating budget.

Tracy is looking into a lease agreement and maintenance plant for the copiers, which he said are unreliable.

Tracy told the board the district has a history of efficiently providing a top education, but education needs to be invested in. New Milford ranks 151st in per pupil spending out of 171 districts statewide.

Tuesday was the first of four budget workshops, which will be held at 7 p.m. at Sarah Noble Intermediate School. Each session focuses on a different component of the budget and include a chance for public comment. The budget is expected to be adopted on Jan. 30.

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345

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