Class sizes could in­crease

School board looks for cuts in 2019-20 bud­get plan

Greenwich Time - - FRONT PAGE - By­line name

“This is not ef­fi­ciency; this is butch­ery.” Clare Kil­gallen, PTA vice pres­i­dent of fundrais­ing, New Le­banon School

GREEN­WICH — Emo­tions ran high and con­flicts ran higher at the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion’s Bud­get Com­mit­tee meet­ing when In­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent Ralph Mayo pro­posed in­creas­ing el­e­men­tary class sizes and elim­i­nat­ing in­tra­mu­ral sports un­der the 2019-20 school bud­get.

“This is not ef­fi­ciency. This is butch­ery,” New Le­banon PTA Vice Pres­i­dent of Fundrais­ing Clare Kil­gallen said.

In Novem­ber, Mayo pre­sented the school board with an op­er­at­ing bud­get of $164.7 mil­lion — a 2.83 per­cent in­crease over this year’s bud­get and 0.8 per­cent be­low a bud­get that would keep ser­vices level. But school board mem­bers asked him to find “ef­fi­cien­cies” — or cuts — that would bring the bud­get closer to guide­lines from the Board of Es­ti­mate and Tax­a­tion.

Be­fore Mayo pre­sented his bud­get, the BET said the town, which will be rais­ing its tax rate af­ter keep­ing it the same in this fis­cal year, could tol­er­ate a 1 per­cent to 2 per­cent bud­get in­crease.

The su­per­in­ten­dent re­turned to the school board Thurs­day night — backed by a dozen prin­ci­pals and even more PTA mem­bers — with two bud­get plans, one with a 2.5 per­cent in­crease and one with a 2 per­cent in­crease. The board is sched­uled to vote on a bud­get on Dec. 20.

The first would in­crease

se­condary school class sizes and can­cel two soft­ware sub­scrip­tions, while the sec­ond would also in­crease el­e­men­tary class sizes and elim­i­nate in­tra­mu­ral sports in the mid­dle schools.

Board mem­bers said they were dis­ap­pointed that the pro­posed re­duc­tions would di­rectly af­fect stu­dents, and pledged not to touch el­e­men­tary classes and in­tra­mu­ral sports.

Chair­man Peter Bern­stein was shocked at how Mayo ar­rived at a 2 per­cent in­crease, but ad­mon­ished the school dis­trict for its ap­proach to the other pro­posed cuts. “This is the an­tithe­sis of what we asked for,” Bern­stein said. “I think we were very spe­cific . ... There are a lot of ar­eas, pro­grams, that need to be looked at and eval­u­ated.”

The school dis­trict and the school board did not have time to re­view pro­grams for ef­fi­cien­cies, but it needs to be done, he said.

“If you don’t come up with the cuts, the board is go­ing to have to do it, and if we don’t do it, some­body else is go­ing to do it,” Bern­stein said.

The school bud­get for 2019-20 will be de­bated at ev­ery step through the ap­proval process as of­fi­cials work to keep the fi­nal in­crease within town guide­lines. “It is not a hard cap,” BET Chair Jill Ober­lan­der said Fri­day morn­ing of the 1 per­cent to 2 per­cent. “It’s pos­si­ble the BOE will say, ‘We can’t do bet­ter.’”

A ma­jor­ity of school board mem­bers were open to in­creas­ing the size of mid­dle and high school classes, end­ing sub­scrip­tions to un­der­used teach­ing soft­ware and trim­ming pro­fes­sional and cur­ricu­lum de­vel­op­ment costs.

A 2.5 per­cent in­crease

The dis­trict could save $523,000 by chang­ing the 20-year-old staffing model at the mid­dle schools and high school and end­ing un­der­used teach­ing soft­ware sub­scrip­tions, as called for in the bud­get plan with a 2.5 per­cent spend­ing in­crease.

In­creas­ing mid­dle school stu­dent-to-teacher ra­tios from 14.6 to 1 at West­ern and 14.8 to 1 at Cen­tral and Eastern to 15 stu­dents for one teacher, and the high school ra­tio from 15.6 to 16 stu­dents for one teacher, would save $423,000. “This was a prac­tice, not a pol­icy,” Bern­stein said Fri­day morn­ing. “We’ve done this too long with­out talk­ing about it.”

Seven ad­di­tional high school classes would be capped at 30 stu­dents, and more teach­ers would be teach­ing 120 stu­dents over the course of a day — the con­trac­tual max­i­mum — mak­ing it harder for stu­dents to have flex­i­ble sched­ules. Stu­dents might also strug­gle to earn enough cred­its to grad­u­ate: The state is in­creas­ing re­quire­ments from 22 to 25 cred­its for the Class of 2023. Half of the Class of 2016 at Green­wich High grad­u­ated with more than 25 cred­its, how­ever.

If ap­proved, the cuts would cause the mid­dle schools to op­er­ate like ju­nior high schools, as teach­ers nor­mally grouped in teams by grade level might have to teach sec­tions with stu­dents in other grades, of­fi­cials said.

A 2 per­cent in­crease

The dis­trict would save an ad­di­tional $820,000, bring­ing the to­tal sav­ings to $1.3 mil­lion, if it were to in­crease el­e­men­tary class­room sizes and elim­i­nate in­tra­mu­ral sports in the mid­dle schools, which would hap­pen un­der the bud­get plan with a 2 per­cent in­crease.

Up­ping each class size by one stu­dent — kinder­garten and first grade would be al­lowed to have 22 stu­dents, with 25 in sec­ond and third grades, and 27 in fourth and fifth grades — would elim­i­nate eight sec­tions, sav­ing $720,000.

The av­er­age in­crease across the dis­trict would be one stu­dent per sec­tion, but Hamil­ton Av­enue School kinder­garten and first grade class­rooms would in­crease by three stu­dents.

Elim­i­nat­ing in­tra­mu­ral sports would save the $100,000 spent an­nu­ally on su­per­vi­sion and equip­ment, of­fi­cials said. Dis­trict of­fi­cials said the in­tra­mu­ral of­fer­ings some­times du­pli­cate com­pet­i­tive sports, and ac­cess to the fit­ness cen­ter and ping pong ta­bles can be pro­vided in other ways.

Cur­ricu­lum, pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment cuts

Many school board mem­bers sug­gested cut­ting coaches, fund­ing fewer con­fer­ences and tem­po­rar­ily de­fer­ring the cost of name­brand con­sul­tants such as Todd White, who helps to im­ple­ment school im­prove­ment plans, and Greg Tang, who helps to sup­port math cur­ricu­lum.

Cuts to cur­ricu­lum and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment are cre­ative, not dras­tic, Board Vice Chair Jen­nifer Day­ton said. “In­stead of hav­ing an ex­pen­sive out­sider who is a name-brand, you de­velop a mas­ter-teacher,” Day­ton said. “The same con­tent is de­liv­ered to the same au­di­ence.”

The dis­trict al­ready uses a train-the-trainer model, as teach­ers are re­quired to re­turn from con­fer­ences pre­pared to share the knowl­edge they gained, Chief Aca­demic Of­fi­cer Irene Parisi said.

Fur­ther, the dis­trict spends $900 per teacher on de­vel­op­ment, or 75 cents a day, she said.

“Cur­ricu­lum and in­struc­tion is the back­bone of any school dis­trict,” she said. “The sup­port struc­ture is the pro­fes­sional learn­ing sys­tem; our prom­ise to cul­ti­vat­ing the tal­ent of our teach­ers.”

High per pupil spend­ing

Green­wich has smaller class sizes, with 14.6 stu­dents to ev­ery teacher, com­pared with 15 stu­dents to each teacher, which is the av­er­age in com­pa­ra­ble dis­tricts in the state.

Green­wich spends more per pupil on in­struc­tional staff and ser­vices, $14,464 per stu­dent, com­pared to $10,314 per stu­dent, the av­er­age of com­pa­ra­ble dis­tricts. In to­tal, the dis­trict spends $21,518 per stu­dent, com­pared to an av­er­age of $18,013.

While Green­wich spends the most on staff and ser­vices, and more than av­er­age on ad­min­is­tra­tion and sup­port ser­vices, it spends the least on trans­porta­tion, and spends be­low av­er­age on sup­plies, in­struc­tion and ed­u­ca­tional me­dia ser­vices, and build­ing op­er­a­tion and man­age­ment.

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