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Agostine: Monroe is Getting Bang for Its Buck

The first selectman's budget proposal include a 3.14% spending increase for Monroe's public schools. Supt. James Agostine presented it Monday.

Though education spending has remained relatively flat over the past two years, Supt. of Schools James Agostine says Monroe has gotten bang for its buck as the school board finds savings and stretches its dollars. Recent statistics of 44 zip codes rank Monroe as 23rd in median home values and 17th out of 23 towns in per pupil expenditures, but 5th in the percentage of students proficient on testing scores, according to the superintendent.

However, with average increases of 3% and inflation rising by over 8% over time, Agostine says the district is going backwards, while doing more with less to keep up.

First Selectman Steve Vavrek's town budget proposal includes a Board of Education operating budget of $53,048,399, a 3.14% or $1.6 million spending increase from the current fiscal year.

The Board of Education had approved a budget with a 3.72% spending increase, but Vavrek transferred $300,000 for school security over to the town-side. Agostine said he supports the move, so long as the money is spent the way it is intended.

"The proposed budget significantly enhances the core academic program by implementing full day kindergarten and maintaining class sizes," Agostine said. "It provides support for all students in meeting the new national Common Core State Standards. It addresses the unfunded mandate for staff evaluations."

Through negotiations with seven employee unions, Agostine said the Board of Education has gotten important concessions, including a one-time payment of around $345,000 for limited exposure for teachers' medical retirements, saving an estimated $6 million in future obligations.

A portion of the cost to sunset the benefits to be paid this year is $115,200. There is also a negotiation reserve of $156,075.

After freezes on teachers' salaries, Agostine said raises will kick in this year. The budget includes $501,824 in contractual obligations for salaries.

Transportation costs add $267,208 to the budget. The plan includes $193,602 for full-day kindergarten and a $490,480 medical reserve.

Agostine the request for operating expenses actually represents a 2.66% increase, because around $592,000 in enterprise funds that were used to supplement the current budget are not there anymore.

State legislators had said they would keep the education cost sharing formula, which is used to factor in how much state aid districts get, flat, according to Agostine. He said the district goes for grants at every opportunity to lessen the burden on town taxpayers.

Declining Enrollment

Student enrollment continues to decline and the superintendent said the trend is expected to continue over the next decade.

"We're keeping up with this enrollment decline," Agostine said.

He said the district has been reducing staffing positions, but added it will change course if the enrollment trends change.

The move to full day kindergarten results in staffing reductions.

The district would cut 6.4 full time staff positions and add in 4.5 positions for full day kindergarten, factoring into a $283,914 reduction — with $626,281 in cuts and $345,367 in additions, according to Agostine's presentation. That includes elimination of six non-certified and one permanent substitute positions, and an estimated $40,000 savings in transportation.

He said continuing with half day kindergarten would result in cuts of 4.7 certified staff positions, six non-certified and one permanent substitute for a reduction of $477,816.

Out of 23 towns in Fairfield County, Agostine said only three, Monroe, Newtown and Shelton do not have full day kindergarten. He added that studies show children in half day kindergarten will be 40% behind students who took full day as they enter first grade.

captrips February 12, 2013 at 06:59 PM
"inflation rising by over 8% over time"? What world does this describe? The published CPI for December 2012 was 1.7%. We all know that the calculation methodology leaves CPI open to debate but can it be understated by 400% as Mr. Agostine states? Did I miss something or is Jimmy Carter our President?
Alexandra Mack February 12, 2013 at 07:20 PM
Please note the OVER TIME part of 8%. He didn't say it was annual. During the time that inflation has risen by that much, our spending has not kept up. Monroe has done a fantastic job of doing more with less--witness our quickly cleaned up roads this weekend. But we do need to start making some investments in our future, even in bad economic times.
Sue Rhines February 12, 2013 at 07:51 PM
Monroe's budget for education is still too high. As a parent I appreciate having good schools but as a taxpayer I also have sympathy for those who do not nor never have had children in the Monroe schools. As a resident I am appalled that once submitted that cuts cannot be made to the school budget. To me this disenfranchises voters. This is the only community I have lived in that has such a policy and I don't understand why it hasn't been changed.
Alex February 12, 2013 at 08:00 PM
"Recent statistics of 44 zip codes rank Monroe as 23rd in median home values and 17th out of 23 towns in per pupil expenditures" Is this a published article? Reference please? Let me guess; we're only looking at the 23 towns in Fairfield county? It's not very helpful to say we lag behind Greenwich or New Canaan in student spending as we are not the same as those towns.
Shannon Reilly Monaco February 12, 2013 at 08:38 PM
The article I believe Mr. Agostine is referring to is in the CT Post from April 29, 2012 titled "Valuing education".
jim laguardia February 12, 2013 at 09:32 PM
I did not know that cuts can not be made to the school budget.... where did you hear that? I remember hearing last night the budget was a fluid one??
jim laguardia February 12, 2013 at 09:35 PM
and by the same logic we are not the same as Norwalk, and Bridgeport
Sue Rhines February 12, 2013 at 09:40 PM
As I understand it, once the budget from the BOE side is submitted that is it. Having lived in Stamford the process was the super submits a budget to the BOE who can cut it but even after they send their approved budget in, the board of reps can then also cut the budget. My understanding is one the BOE here submits it then it is done. No more cutting can be done by the town officials.
Amy Shelin Primorac February 12, 2013 at 09:45 PM
Sue, that is not correct at all. The First Selectman can reduce the budget after the BOE passes it, and so can the Board of Finance. And if the budget fails, the First Selectman can choose to reduce it again if he wants. I'm not where you got that information but it is not correct information.
jim laguardia February 12, 2013 at 10:05 PM
as a matter of fact the BoF has cut it or "suggested" to them to cut it to 0% the last two years....
Non-Fiction February 12, 2013 at 10:09 PM
@John Watson - there you go again. Making vague statements that you can't back up with any real information. The Superintendent explained the increase and you chose to ignore the reasons. You also take the newspaper story out of context to meet your own agenda.
Alex February 13, 2013 at 03:17 AM
You're right jim, we're not and I would never compare us to those cities. But there are towns in the area and state which are very similar to us in size, demographics, and geography. Towns like Newtown, Branford, or Madison are better comparisons.
captrips February 13, 2013 at 12:37 PM
@Alexandra Mack - With all due respect, if that was the case, then why say it? Inflation is quoted in annual terms not "over time". If it was the latter then inflation would equal infinity, no? That is, there's inflation, on average, every year.
Non-Fiction February 13, 2013 at 05:41 PM
@Jon Watson - you insinuate that school performance is based solely on income. If you were correct then all kids who come from low income families would perform poorly. Your second sentence says there is no reason for a "bigger budget" because of the low rate of low income students. That makes no sense. You statements don't stand up to any logic of the facts. You only look for evidence that supports your theories and disregard everything else.
jim laguardia February 13, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Captrips if memory serves he was referencing a number of years on a graph that was part of the presentation (I don't have it with me but you can look it up on line I am sure) I think the graph started in 2001
jim laguardia February 14, 2013 at 12:43 AM
AND????? Should we send out kids to summer camp with the well off smart kids and hope their intelligence rubs off on our Monroe kids, thus saving on the education budget???
Non-Fiction February 14, 2013 at 01:15 AM
So smart kids hang around with smart kids. What point are you trying to make?
jim laguardia February 14, 2013 at 02:23 AM
I read a study that 90% of people will believe anything if it is in a study, no matter how silly the study is
Alan Vaglivelo February 14, 2013 at 02:38 AM
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made a major commitment to schools and education. Following an extensive review of the research on the components of successful schools, the characteristics they identified as most important were: • Common focus on research-based goals • High expectations • Small, personalized learning environment • Respect and responsibility for all • Parent/community partnership • Focus on performance • Effective use of technology tools
jim laguardia February 14, 2013 at 03:26 AM
Actually. I did a four year comprehensive study similar to this one that also found smart kids hang out with smart kids, atheletes hang out with atheletes, musicians hang out with musicians, etc.... it was called lunch period of high school. :-)

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