Superintendent Tom Moore’s proposed budget for the West Hartford Public Schools’ 2019-2020 academic year includes a $4.75 million (2.89 percent) overall increase.
By Ronni Newton
The annual budget season officially began in West Hartford with the presentation of the superintendent’s proposed 2019-2020 general fund budget to the Board of Education Tuesday night.
In reality, Moore told the Board, planning for the next year’s budget starts as soon as the previous school year ends, but he consciously hasn’t been talking constantly about “the tragedy about to befall our budget” because of the negative impact that can have on morale. He also said he thinks that the threat of a $20 million cut in state aid that was hanging over the town for the past two years has passed for now.
“There are people that will believe we’re spending too much and there are people in this audience who don’t feel we’re spending enough,” Moore told the Board as he unveiled his proposal. It’s difficult to craft a budget “that maintains our excellence without sacrifice.”
Moore’s proposed $169,096,905 budget for the 2019-2020 academic year represents an overall increase of $4,745,378 or 2.89 percent more than the $164,351,527 budget the Board operated under for the 2018-2019 academic year.
The roll-forward budget – looking at keeping the exact same programs and services next year as this year – is $168,552,180, a $4.2 million (2.56 percent) increase due to negotiated salary contracts, benefits, increases in the cost of energy and transportation, inflation, and teacher pension contributions.
Salary increases are mitigated by an existing $1 million surplus, which rolls into the following year’s budget, Moore said.
And additional good news in this year’s roll-forward budget is that the estimate for medical expenses has decreased about $60,000, Moore said. This is the last year that medical costs will be the “boogie man under the bed” because the transition to the state partnership plan agreed to in the recently-approved collective bargaining agreements will stabilize and make those costs predictable in the future. In addition, there are savings in retiree health costs.
The Board of Education is already responsible for pension costs for non-teacher staff members – which have increased by $288,000 – but for 2019-2020 Moore is also budgeting $524,000, which is the amount included as West Hartford’s contribution for teacher pension costs under the budget proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont last month.
The governor is proposing a phase-in for towns’ contribution to the Teachers’ Retirement System, and over the next three years that cost will total $1.6 million. “This is a ‘maybe,'” Moore said, because it will depend on the legislature’s actions on the state budget. While the Town Council may have more information by the time they vote, Moore said the $524,000 is a good estimate and “more than a placeholder.”
Net changes to the budget, outside of the roll-forward portion, total $544,725, or 0.33 percent, Moore said – an amount that almost exactly mirrors the teacher pension costs the district will now absorb.
Outside of the roll-forward budget, a decline in enrollment for 2019-2020 will result in a reduction of 12.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions – 4.8 at the elementary school level, 3.5 in middle school, and 3.9 at the high school level. The decrease in positions will save $930,000 next year, and due to retirements and natural attrition, no layoffs will be required.
At the same time, however, there is a need for 5.45 additional special education FTEs, which will add $470,000 to the budget.
One of those requested positions is a social worker in charge of crisis management, who will coordinate response to the district’s reporting app. “When a child is in crisis we want one person being the district person that’s looking at the threat assessment,” Moore said, a person who can react quickly and perform immediate triage.
The student population includes 140 more special education students than it did 10 years ago, Moore said. Staffing for special education needs to be more intensive, in some cases due to legal requirements, and West Hartford is a “destination district” for families with special needs students.
Other changes to the budget for 2019-2020 include $140,000 for the addition of two more security officers at the elementary school level – one in the north end of town and one in the south end of town – to supplement the two existing officers who split their time among the elementary schools.
Moore is proposing an increase in $10 per day for teaching assistants and substitutes – bringing their pay up to $100 per day for regular education and $105 per day for special education, and adding a projected $410,000 in cost to the budget. “We’re having trouble filling those positions,” he told We-Ha.com, because nearby districts have a higher pay scale.
Also included in the budget is a change in Roszena Haskins’ position, which has been split between Diversity Enhancement and Community Engagement and Continuing Education, Summer School, and Adult Education. Haskins will now be director of Diversity Enhancement and Community Engagement as a full-time position.
“West Hartford has been a leader; Roszena is the leader [in diversity enhancement],” Moore said, and that needs to continue
Some of her existing responsibilities with summer programs will handled by the town through Leisure Services.
Moore has also added a World Language supervisor – a position that has been cut from the budget for the past two years.
The district’s seven preschool paraprofessionals can no longer be supported through the preschool fund, and will be paid through the general fund, adding $180,000 in cost.
While the budget preserves existing programs, what it does not include is any new programs. One of the ideas that has been floated – changing the high school schedule from seven to eight periods – could cost as much as $1.3-$1.5 million, Moore said.
The district is careful with its money, Moore said, and returns an average of $800,000 to the town every year.
Before getting into the specifics of the numbers, Moore outlined the district’s unique demographics for the Board, and said that more than one in five of the 9,564 students currently in pre-k through grade 12 has a primary language other than English spoken in their home. Overall there are 74 different languages spoken.
Another key demographic is that 4,158 students (43 percent) are minorities, a number that Moore said has been growing by about 1 percent a year.
There are 2,489 (26 percent) of West Hartford students who receive free or reduced price lunches. That percentage has increased substantially, but Moore said it’s because the metric used for qualification has changed in the past year, allowing more families to receive the benefit.
Currently there are 1,191 (12 percent) of students in pre-k through grade 12 receiving some type of special education services, Moore said.
“I do think it’s important to remember that we are managing this large structural organization,” Moore said, noting that the district, which is the ninth largest in the state, has 1.8 million square feet of buildings and 336 acres of fields. In comparison, he said, “that’s basically the same as the U.S. Capitol and all the offices,” he said, and the area of the fields equals “two Disneylands or three Vatican Cities.
West Hartford is now ranked 107th in per-pupil spending – a rebound from last year’s ranking of 117th, Moore said, that is likely because the district’s budget is passed later in the year than in other towns and there was greater certainly of state funding by that point.
The town’s ranking can be seen as good or bad, Moore said – indicating that “we’re efficient or we’re not spending enough.”
The average $16,445 per pupil spending in West Hartford is far below that of the reference district (DRG B), as well as the state overall and the largest districts within the state. If the district were to spend at those average levels, the budget would be anywhere from $800,000 to nearly $10 million higher, Moore said.
Conard and Hall consistently receive accolades, and Moore said, the culmination of work that begins at the younger grades.
One measure of success that is not typically mentioned in comparisons, however, is the district’s number of AP Scholars. West Hartford has 2 percent of the state’s public school students, but 5 percent (188) of the state’s AP Scholars. The town also has 49 National AP Scholars – who have taken eight or more AP exams and received scores of 4 or higher on at least eight of those exams – and that amounts to 10 percent of the state’s National AP Scholars.
“If West Hartford were a state instead of a town, we would be 42nd” in terms of the number of AP Scholars, Moore said. On its own, the town has more than Alaska, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. And only 28 states as a whole had more AP Capstone Scholars than West Hartford, which had 22 last year.
“The opportunity for an elite education that we offer our kids is tremendous,” Moore said. “We’re offering the opportunity to all of our kids so that they can be the best graduate they can be.”
Upcoming public meetings related to the Board of Education budget include:
Budget Workshop no. 1, March 13, Town Hall, 7 p.m.
Board Public Hearing, March 27, Town Hall, 7 p.m.
Budget Workshop no. 2, March 27, following Public Hearing
Board Budget Adoption, April 2, Town Hall, 7 p.m.
- Town Council Budget Adoption, April 23, Town Hall, 7 p.m.
Town Manager Matt Hart will be proposing the town’s Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget on Tuesday, March 12. That meeting begins at Town Hall at 7:30 p.m.
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