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Agostine Asks for 3.9% Hike for Monroe's Schools

Supt. James Agostine presented his 2013-14 budget request to the Board of Education Monday night, a spending plan that includes full day kindergarten.

After two years of zeros, Supt. of Schools James Agostine is asking for a 3.99 percent spending increase for Monroe Public Schools. He presented a $53,486,069 budget proposal to the Board of Education at its meeting Monday night.

Agostine said it is actually a 2.93 percent hike over last year, because enterprise funds and a reduction in the medical insurance reserve allowed the district to increase spending by 1.03 percent over what was approved. The current budget is $51,434,738.

One concern expressed by Agostine is the uncertainty over how much Monroe's state Educational Cost Sharing Grant will be. It accounts for over 12% of the budget. There is no way of knowing what the legislature will do before Monroe approves its budget, according to Agostine.

The superintendent said other unknowns are special education costs and unfunded mandates for staff training, adding consortium rates for energy costs are not set.

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"Can we prepare for the nuclear option," Board of Education member Mark Antinozzi asked. "What will happen if we don't get that money from grants? And Gov. Malloy says, 'Gee whiz, I can't afford that.' Are we prepared for that option?"

"No," Agostine replied. "In that case, we would have to go back to the town and ask for the difference."

The proposal does not include a new media specialist. Agostine said he decided to hold off this year. Instead, the district is pursuing full day kindergarten. Agostine plans on seeking to enhance programs steadily every year.

The budget plan includes funding for full day kindergarten and Agostine says a mix of cuts and increases actually equates to $144,812 in savings.

To go to full day K, Agostine proposes reductions of a 1.5 special education position for grades 6-12, a teacher for grades 6-8, a .2 school psychologist , a .5 technology integrator for K-5, a 1.2 kindergarten intervention position, and three non-certified staff positions. Four-and-a-half to 5.5 teaching positions would be added, depending on how many children enroll in kindergarten, Agostine said.

If the Board of Education decides to keep the current half day kindergarten program, Agostine proposes staff reductions of a .5 teacher for the hearing impaired, a Jockey Hollow social studies teacher, a SPED for Masuk High School, a .2 psychologist and 6 non-certified positions. It would add up to $338,714 worth of cuts.

Costs & Savings

Major cost increases in the budget proposal include $790,480 for medical insurance, $501,824 in salaries, a $156,075 negotiations reserve (There will be four contract negotiations: teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries and custodians) and $267,208 in transportation costs.

Agostine said a portion of the transportation costs are to make up a shortfall for All-Star Transportation in the current budget because, though it was the lowest bidder, the bid came in higher than anticipated.

Agostine said the district strives to reduce budget costs through contract negotiations and energy savings, while keeping in mind the primary goal of supporting all students to meet the new national Common Core State Standards for English/language arts and mathematics.

Eleven certified retirements will lead to savings for the district. Agostine said a cap in what the town pays for retirees' health insurance will save the district an estimated $5 million over the next two decades. It was negotiated in the latest teachers contract.

Prior to the existing retirement benefit sunsetting, the town will have to make one last payment of $115,200.

Should the town approve a contract with Honeywell, the superintendent said the school district can realize energy savings on upgrades to its buildings, which includes a slew of projects such as switching Masuk High School from oil heat to natural gas.

Other details in Agostine's presentation were:

  • Projected enrollment continues to decline. It is expected to fall from 3,481 students in 2012 to 3,361 in 2013.
  • No capital projects are included in the budget proposal, but it has $44,000 for facilities. Agostine called it a "drop in the bucket" over what the district should spend to maintain "a quarter-of-a-billion-dollars" in facilities.
  • With two consecutive years of zero-percent increases, Agostine said Monroe Public Schools are not keeping up with the rate of inflation.
Gerald M. Gaynor December 04, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Whenever someone tells me that a spending increae is a mere "drop in the bucket" I check to see if I need flood insurance...
jim laguardia December 04, 2012 at 12:55 PM
I could be wrong but I don't think that term refers to a spending increase but as a part of the budget to maintain buildings.
Nancy Bennet December 04, 2012 at 01:11 PM
The difference in staff reductions unrelated to K, depending on full day K is troubling. Those positions are either needed or not and should not be shuffled to make the numbers
Walt December 04, 2012 at 01:20 PM
"With two consecutive years of zero-percent increases, Agostine said Monroe Public Schools are not keeping up with the rate of inflation." Neither is my paycheck. C'mon, the increase is for salary and benefits, the drop in the bucket is for everything else.
Alex December 04, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Town and School sides can't both have an increase. It won't pass any referendum and would be a waste of more tax money to try. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Lani December 04, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Why aren't the lists of staff reductions the same for keeping half day K and full day K (with additions to meet higher budget needs of full day)? Why don't these needs match more closely? Either you need a teacher in middle school or not.. what does full day K have to do with that? Same for a hearing impaired teacher or high school?
jim laguardia December 04, 2012 at 02:27 PM
agreed
Todd Fox December 04, 2012 at 03:43 PM
The interest rate is near zero, and seems as if it could fall even lower. Does anybody understand that the older citizens of Monroe depend on interest on their savings in order just to live and pay their property taxes? Is the goal to drive people out of town as we continue to raise their taxes, even as their incomes fall?
Al December 04, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Todd is Right,
captrips December 04, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I'm sorry but in this environment, any enhancements to the status quo should be self funded. With enrollment continuing to decline, someone should take an objective view of the staffing requirements for the Monroe school system inclusive of administrative positions. The feasibility of a revised model should be developed where the system does more with less and funds union increases for the remaining staff. It's about time the education system come into the economic realities of the real world.
Alex December 04, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Agreed. Great schools are very important. But when your mil rate is higher than the surrounding towns, that factor won't matter as much in attracting new residents, especially for people without children. If the goal was to show that our town is serious about our students, then that has been accomplished and clearly shown in our per pupil spending($14,025). Our per pupil spending exceeds all of the surrounding towns except for Easton, which is a much smaller town system and more affluent population. If we're going to talk about increases, it needs to be put into perspective with what other towns in the area are doing as well.
James Wadsworth December 04, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Enrollment is declining by about 100 students. These students are spread across 13 grade levels and hundreds of classrooms. It is not an easy fix when you have some classrooms that are over crowded. If the 100 students were all leaving the 3rd grade then 3rd grade could be reduced but they are not concentrated in one particular grade level. As for administrators, there are not enough to meet the new teacher evaluation mandate from the state. The new mandates will require every teacher to be observed and evaluated 6 times per year. That is another unfunded mandate by Connecticut. Monroe also has less administrators than other districts of similar size.
Peg December 04, 2012 at 09:47 PM
I agree with Todd.
Peg December 04, 2012 at 09:48 PM
My comment is posted above.
QWERTY December 05, 2012 at 04:29 AM
The only thing I support in this budget is the full-day kindergarten. At least this adds something of value to the town and has some appeal. Some residents will actually benefit from this change while perspective future residents have the potential to be attracted by it. Everything is the usual status quo but requires more money.
captrips December 06, 2012 at 08:21 PM
James, thanks for the information and I obviously can't argue with facts. However, at some point the facts surrounding why something is required can't trump the ultimate fact that the taxpayers/voters are unwilling to pay anymore. A 4% increase in this environment is, on the surface, unreasonable. Consumers and businesses have had to adjust to the new reality post 2008. It's time that the educational sector acknowledge the existence of this world and make like adjustments. If that means less teachers and larger class sizes, so be it. P.S. I'm not retired and I do have kids in the school system.
Todd Fox December 06, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Full day kindergarten is a great idea on many levels. It's a good alternative to daycare. But it raises a question: If full day kindergarten is the new standard, will we soon see demands for taxpayer funded nursery "school"? Is the community responsible for providing care for four year olds? For three year olds? Toddlers? How shall we determine the age at which parents are expected to provide care for their own children? I'm not trying to be unreasonable, or attacking the value of education, but parents are responsible for the children they brought in to this world. I wish we could afford to give parents everything they want for their children, in terms of school and sports. Unfortunately in this economy a line has to be drawn at what the children need instead. Parents are responsible for the extras.
Lani December 06, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Todd, right or wrong, providing preschool is already happening. That is one of the platforms the current governor campaigned on. He started a universal preschool program in Stamford. Look to the new programming CT will be participating in adding 300 hours to the school year... apparently the 'state' is supposed to care for the children- not the parents. (heavy sarcasm here)
Alan Vaglivelo December 06, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Full day Kindergarten is necessary to meet the upcoming state mandates for the Common Core State Standards. Students in Kindergarten will be expected to perform work on a first grade level to meet the benchmark goals. If Kindergarten remains half-day the students will be at a significant disadvantage compared to students who attend full day programs. Kindergarten used to be about socialization and learning basic pre-academic skills. Now they are expected to do the work equivalent of first grade learners. Therefore, the academic requirements for each grade level will be intensified. If you google "common core state standards" it should give you plenty of information. With regards to Pre-school, it is already mandated for children with special needs. Children who do not require special education services can attend for a fee.
Todd Fox December 06, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Perhaps it's the Common Core Standards which need to be changed, not the school schedule. The Common Core Standards do not seem to take in to account the concept of "readiness". Children read when their brains are ready to read, not because they are pushed in to doing it at an earlier and earlier age. Really, what is the point of all the pushing? Many parents are already holding their children back from kindergarten until they are six because they know the curriculum is too demanding. These new standards are creating a monster and they're putting too much stress on children.
Sarah December 09, 2012 at 01:22 AM
I have been living in Monroe for 2 years and haven't had to use the school system here. YET, I pay very high taxes to Monroe, much of which goes to education. Education is probably the most important thing our taxes go towards, so why is this such an issue? I have paid for full time daycare for my child for the last 4 years and he gets more of an education than it sounds like he would get in half day kindergarten. I expect my tax dollars to benefit my child when he does make it to the public school. Isn't that why we choose to move to towns, because the school systems are so strong? I can't believe so many people would be so opposed to giving our kids a better experience at school, especially Kindergarten. My son goes to one school and stays there until i pick him up now. With half day kindergarten he will have to go to two different programs which I am sure is a disruption to a five year old in a entirely new school system. With full day, he could get one curriculum in one school with the same classmates - sounds like stability to me.
Peg December 09, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Children can be taught, but they learn at their own rate of speed. I imagine any family with more than one child can attest to that. We are all so unique. I think Sarah is very fortunate to have a job that works with her child's education schedule. So many have to cover child care either before or after school or sometimes both so the children are, indeed, in different locations. This can be enriching in it's own way. I marvel at how children's lives are so scheduled now. I'm glad things were different in "the old days"!
Todd Fox December 09, 2012 at 04:18 AM
People who have lived in the area for 30 or 40 years aren't opposed to giving your child a good educational experience. They are opposed to being taxed beyond their means and taxed out of their home state. It's as simple as that. They simply cannot pay any more.
jim laguardia December 09, 2012 at 05:42 AM
SOME of those people who have lived here for 30 or 40 years are of the "i got mine Jack" mindset.

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