School board reduces planned improvements

The Shelton Board of Education (BOE) has unanimously approved a revised 2013-14 budget to close an estimated funding gap of $341,500.

The revised budget, recommended by School Supt. Freeman Burr, should lead to a reduction in the number of tutors available for non-special education students and fewer part-time school secretaries.

No direct teacher layoffs will take place, but some teachers will not be added.

Previously approved program improvements that now will not happen include hiring 3.5 new teachers at Shelton High School (science, career technology, special education, and half-time physical education), as well as hiring a Shelton High special education tutor and a districtwide computer technician for the I.T. department.

All part-time secretaries at schools will be given layoff notices effective June 30, but some then will be hired back, and other positions filled by secretaries now based at the BOE central office.

The BOE vote to approve the revised budget was 6-0. The vote took place at special meeting that began at 5 p.m. The 2013-14 fiscal year will begin July 1, and for education purposes covers the upcoming school year.

Over-budget tutors

Much of the discussion focused on funding for tutors, with the amount being spent on tutors in the current year expected to be as much as $600,000 over budget.

“We sort of see the tutors as a ticking time bomb in our budget,” said BOE Finance Director Allan Cameron, explaining the need to come up with a plan to reduce tutoring costs.

The district has budgeted $1.15 million for tutors for the upcoming fiscal year, with about 13% of that amount coming from federal funds.

Tutors are provided at schools for regular students needing help as well as special education students. There is little leeway in providing tutors for special education, but the tutors for other students are optional.

Burr said principals like to use tutors, which are assigned through academic support centers at the schools, because they can help students do better academically.

Reducing tutors

In the current school year, 71 students (this includes 47 regular students and 24 special education students) are tutored.

“We just can’t afford 71 tutors,” Burr said. “That’s why we have a cost overrun.”

For the upcoming school year, the system has budgeted for a total of 54 tutors. They will work an average of 25 hours per week and earn $21,250, with no benefits.

The number of tutors needed for special education is unlikely to drop, so this essentially means there should be fewer tutors available for other students.

Some BOE members questioned if, based on student needs, school administrators were being realistic in their 2013-14 tutor allocation.

Burr said any extra funds that become available during the upcoming fiscal year could be used to enhance the tutoring budget.

The budget gap

The BOE’s reductions in its requested 2013-14 budget were necessary based on the budget allocation approved by the Board of Aldermen, which generally reflected changes made by Mayor Mark Lauretti.

The aldermen added $200,000 to the BOE budget from Lauretti’s recommendation, but the school system still will receive $1.2 million less than it had requested.

The funding gap decreased due to savings from the city supplying its own school buses, smaller BOE employee health insurance coverage costs than anticipated, and having the city pay for $100,000 in technology improvements.

The BOE will get a 2.92% spending increase and had requested a 4.9% increase.