Agostine to Seek a Budget Hike of Around 2.39%

Supt. James Agostine
Supt. James Agostine
Supt. of Schools James Agostine presented a $53,479,638 budget proposal for fiscal year 2014-15 to the Board of Education Monday night. Though the spending increase is 2.63 percent, Agostine anticipates additional savings in energy costs through Honeywell that would drill it down to 2.39 percent.

Aside from goals of graduating students with college and career ready skills and being fiscally responsible, Agostine said his administration strives for transparency in its estimates of how much funding will be needed over the next 18 months.

"We're presenting to you with all candor what we believe we will need over that 18-month period of time," he said.

The budget would increase by $1,369,718 from the current $52,109,919 spending plan.

Despite the proposed increase, Agostine said the Board of Education budget has not kept pace with the rate of inflation over the past few years, adding with higher costs from vendors the district is "basically going backwards".

Agostine said the new proposal:
  • Enhances the core academic program by including a new certified library media specialist in Monroe Elementary School and maintaining class sizes
  • Provides support for all students in meeting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
  • Provides adequate maintenance for all school buildings
  • Provides teacher training in all district initiatives (Columbia Writing Project, Inquiry Learning, BYOT, CCSS, Teacher Evaluation, etc.)
"Monroe Elementary School is the last school in the district without a certified media specialist," Agostine said the new position.

Cost Drivers

Agostine said the cost drivers are $34,392,680 in contractual obligations for salaries, $3,013,589 for transportation, $8,692,702 in medical costs and $405,035 for the Honeywell loan agreement.

Salaries will rise by $1,391,490 or 4.22 percent. Agostine said the district slightly under-budgeted for salaries in the current budget, affecting the size of the increase. 

The superintendent said salaries are difficult to calculate with staff members coming and going. If there are more retirements than expected, he said the district could realize more savings.

The budget proposal includes a $338,193 increase for medical insurance and a $50,000 contingency for unforeseen special education costs.

Projected Savings

Many line items include reductions including $269,072 or 20.36 percent for energy and $43,435 for benefits, $30,172 for technology, $24,214 for transportation and $29,977 for textbooks and supplies.

Agostine said 84.46 percent of the budget would be funded by taxes, 12.29 percent from the Educational Cost Sharing Grant, 1.62 percent from other grants, 1.25 percent from excess cost sharing, 0.02 from facility usage and 0.36 percent from pay to play.

He said potential risks include a decrease in state funding, unanticipated special education costs in excess of $50,000, unfunded mandates, consortium rates for energy costs are not set and unanticipated maintenance for emergency repairs.

"We had to replace a $65,000 boiler this year," Agostine said of the latter.

Declining Enrollment, Staff Cuts
Due to declining enrollment, the superintendent said there will be four reductions in full-time certified staff. Agostine said he and Assistant Supt. John Battista met with teachers whose positions may be eliminated earlier on Monday.

"It's not a pleasant conversation to have," he said. "In some cases we may be able to keep them in another position. We try to be reassuring and let them know we’ll do what we can. But sometimes there's a line in the sand where you have to do a reduction."

The staff reductions would include one full time equivalent for special education in grades 6-8 and three for regular education in those grades.

Agostine showed figures on student enrollment. The decline began in 2004-05 with 4,141 students and now stands at 3,373. During that time, full time educators fell from 281.5 to 252. By the end of the projected decline in 2014-15, Agostine said there would be 3,258 students — a total decline of 883 — and 249 full time staff.

Alex December 03, 2013 at 12:17 PM
@juliembrunelle: I don't know everything about Trumbull's budget but I do know that Trumbull has services that Monroe doesn't such as Sewers. Also even though they spend less per student, they have nearly twice as many students as Monroe does (that makes keeping their school system up to date more expensive as with any larger town). The difference between our mil rates is not a lot either (less than 1.5 mil). If we could get sewers for a 1.5 mil rate increase I would gladly do it, but to get back to your question, I would guess that their mil rate would be a lot higher if it wasn't for the Mall or other businesses (Hawley Lane area/Rt. 111) existing in Trumbull.
QWERTY December 03, 2013 at 12:28 PM
I don't know if I support the rate hike but I like the things James Agostine says. He doesn't seem to put a doomsday scenario on things if the budget is rejected the way other town officials do. 2.39% is a realistic starting point compared to the other numbers thrown around in previous budget years.
christine December 03, 2013 at 12:54 PM
Julie, that's a fair question that I always ponder, too. In the 20 years we've lived here, numerous business have moved in. School enrollment is declining. Yet, every year our taxes increase. I feel we could become a huge city with businesses out the backside and it wouldn't help at all. The argument "we need new businesses" has no merit in my eyes, because I have seen firsthand it hasn't worked. At. All.
christine December 03, 2013 at 12:55 PM
Adding that despite that, I am still all for the school budget. Just not for big development that so far hasn't lowered our taxes.
Gerald M. Gaynor December 03, 2013 at 01:03 PM
Perhaps we could require the Board of Education to exhibit a return on our educational investment. We haven't pinched pennies in this country but we have seen a steady decline in the store of general knowledge exhibited by our high school graduates. The average holder of an undergraduate degree couldn't pass the proficiency tests required of those graduating from the Eighth Grade 100 years ago. Few high school seniors could pass the civics examination given to prospective legal immigrants.
Crown Royal December 03, 2013 at 01:14 PM
Gerald, while I would like to agree with you that proficiency test scores would be lower, I would argue that is due to the diversification of our students studies. English proficiency is not something sought after by employers nearly as much as proficiency in one of the STEM categories. I also think you are generalizing the country as opposed to Connecticut schools. Take for instance this article in the post today: http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/State-fares-well-in-international-testing-5029131.php
Crown Royal December 03, 2013 at 01:14 PM
I completely agree regarding the civics test however.
Alex December 03, 2013 at 01:56 PM
@juliembrunelle: Let me put it like this. Trumbull has nearly 6,800 students in their system at a cost of 13,800 per student. That means each home a student lives in is likely getting more than they contribute to the town's budget. If you have 2 school aged children, you'd have to be paying over $27,000 in property taxes to pay for your share (I doubt there are many homes paying that much). This is where childless families, elderly, and businesses come in to offset that cost. In reality, if Trumbull didn't have those businesses and Childless/Elderly families, they'd be looking at a mill rate closer to 40 or be faced with reducing spending. Compare that to Monroe where we have a student population of 3,258, and you can probably begin to see that the two towns have different cost obligations (and different sized populations too, 19K vs 39K). Where we may spend 51 million on our schools, Trumbull must spend around 90 million and they still spend over $1000 less per student than us. That's 40 million more they need to raise (nearly 80% of our entire school budget) than us with just 1.8x a larger population. Add on the extra services they receive and a 31 mill rate sort of makes sense for Trumbull. Does that make more sense to you?
Fact Checker December 03, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Alex - you are using a different formula than the state to compute per-pupil spending. The state takes multiple variables into account and uses a weighted formula. Therefore, your numbers are a misrepresentation.
Fact Checker December 03, 2013 at 02:16 PM
Gerald Gaynor - show us your data. It is unclear where you are getting those numbers and information from. Sounds more like an urban legend or internet myth. With regards to return on investment, students are administered state mandated comprehensive tests in grades 3-8 and 11th grade.
Sue December 03, 2013 at 02:19 PM
One explanation for the higher taxes in Monroe may be related to the fact that Monroe ranked 3 or 4 about 10 years ago for the highest number of students for the fewest number of taxpaying adults. I don't know if this is still true, but I suspect it is and that would explain the higher taxes (Fewer taxpayers to pay for the high number of students enrolled.)
Ken Wielk December 03, 2013 at 02:57 PM
Trumbull has a pop. Of over 36,000 to Monroe's 19,000, Trumbull also pays a fire tax besides the sewer tax plus Trumbull has businesses that pay big taxes. You really can't compare Trumbull or Shelton to Monroe .
Fact Checker December 03, 2013 at 02:58 PM
The “per pupil expenditure” discussed here is officially called the Net Current Expenditure Per Pupil (NCEP) by the State of Connecticut. It has been a primary measure of per pupil spending in Connecticut for more than three decades. NCEP measures education expenditures with a couple of adjustments (as explained below). NCE Net current expenditures (NCE) includes all current public school expenditures from all sources, excluding reimbursable regular education transportation, tuition revenue, capital expenditures for land, buildings and equipment, and debt service. ADM Represents the average daily membership (ADM) calculated from the October Public School reports. ADM represents resident students adjusted for school sessions in excess of the 180-day/900-hour minimum, tuition-free summer school, full-time equivalent (FTE) prekindergarten pupils and participation in Open Choice. As a result of these adjustments, in many districts a fractional ADM number will be reported. Net current expenditures per pupil (NCEP) represents NCE divided by ADM. So you can see that the “per pupil expenditure” or Net Current Expenditure Per Pupil is not easily calculated by the budget divided by the number of students. The State of Connecticut uses a calculation to determine the adjusted number of students (ADM) and an adjusted budget (NCE). Then these adjusted numbers are used to calculate the Net Current Expenditure Per Pupil (NCEP) or “per pupil expenditure.”
Crown Royal December 03, 2013 at 03:13 PM
@Fact Checker I like your style!
Gerald M. Gaynor December 03, 2013 at 03:30 PM
I don't think that the Smithsonian regularly deals in urban myths. This article isn't the only source for my opinion on what today's students seemingly aren't taught. As to return on investment, we have decades of actuarial proof that throwing more money at the educational system doesn't return better, more educated graduates. http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/07/no-youre-probably-not-smarter-than-a-1912-era-8th-grader/
Alex December 03, 2013 at 04:36 PM
@Fact Checker Sigh...You do realize I was using the NCEP from the state for listing out the town's cost per pupil right? The only thing I was mistaken on was I used the wrong amount for the proposed budget, but let me reiterate this because you're clearly caught up in the minor details in an attempt to dismiss the facts. The NCEP should be used to compare ourselves with other school districts of similar affluence and wealth. Now on to the math: $53,479,638 / 3,258 = $16,414 per pupil. That is the GROSS PROPOSED SPENDING PER PUPIL. That figure includes building spending and other non-student spending So last year we spent (in total) 52,109,919, but the state recognized that of that amount, 99.3% was NCEP spending. Let me re-iterate that: less than 1% of the total budget was NOT NCEP spending ($374,357 of our current 52 million budget was not spent on pupils last year). So sure, 53,479,638 won't be 100% NCEP, but with the historical rates, the NCE figure for next year would be then around(give or take 10 grand) $53,105,280(NCE) / 3,258(Number of projected total students) = $16,299 per pupil. So you're right....it's not going to be $15,994 per pupil next year... it will be closer to $16,299 per pupil if this budget proposal passes as is. This is of course an ESTIMATE, but the closer we have using the last year's actuals as the estimate. SOURCE: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/dgm/report1/basiccon.pdf
Alex December 03, 2013 at 05:05 PM
And I should add: We can argue over 1000 dollars here or there, that's not going to accomplish anything nor reveal anything new. The point I was trying to make is, look at our neighbors and see what they are doing right or wrong and how can we learn from that. Increasing educational spending far above all our neighbors isn't a bad thing in of itself, but is it the best for ALL of Monroe? Are we getting a return on those extra dollars spent or is it all going toward salaries of veteran teachers or smart walls and other technology with little gain for our students? If you still want to dismiss, go ahead, but we all get a vote in this town come referendum and if you think a budget increase like this will get through on the first try, I'd like to know why you think that.
juliembrunelle December 03, 2013 at 05:05 PM
Ok, thanks. I think. (I am more confused than I was before). But really, thank you for all your input, now I am seeing the issue from multiple sides. Certainly a lot to chew on!
Thomas J. Stripay December 03, 2013 at 05:55 PM
I don't like having my taxes raised any more than any one else however the issue is not how much money is spent on education it is how the money is spent. Personally, I think Supt. Agostine is doing a pretty good job of managing how our tax money is spent. If my math is correct there are fixed expenditures of approximately $46.5 million dollars in salaries and benefits and loan amortization in a budget totaling $53.5 . The Superintendent has virtually no control over these fixed expenses other than to lay off staff. I would like to believe that he staffs to meet needs. That leaves a discretionary budget of approximately $7 million dollars. This is money for maintenance, utilities, insurance, books, teacher training etc. There doesn't seem to be a lot of fat here. With contractually obligated teacher salaries (the biggest part of the budget) going up 4.4% a 2.4% increase seems rational and a reasonable start from Mr. Agostine. The relevant review boards will make the final determination. If you vote no on the budget because you really don't like teacher salaries and benefits that's ok, just say so. If you vote yes for the budget no matter what that's ok too, everyone is entitled to an opinion. But can we please stop the name calling?
Bruce December 03, 2013 at 06:24 PM
Higher taxes = less hillbillies. Less hillbillies = a better Monroe. Out with the old and in with the new!
Peg December 03, 2013 at 07:02 PM
Sickening comment from Bruce. Wonder how long he's lived here...really upsetting reading his remarks...
Peg December 03, 2013 at 07:09 PM
but then perhaps he is just looking to get a rise out of those who think differently!!! lol!!!
Fact Checker December 03, 2013 at 09:07 PM
Gerald Gaynor - thanks for sharing the article. However, the conclusion seems to be contradicting the point you are trying to make. How does asking a 12-year old about international shipping routes have any bearing on the kinds of scientific literacy needed today?
Gerald M. Gaynor December 03, 2013 at 09:46 PM
Fact Checker, if you wish to believe that the average high school graduate is as well versed in mathematics, language arts, geography and history as someone who graduated with me in 1969, you are certainly entitled to believe that. Every survey and street interview scenario that has been aired for decades would conclude otherwise. I know for a fact that I could not have passed the graduation exams of 100 years ago; nor could you. Are there more examples out there to prove my point? Yes. Does this forum warrant the intellectual exercise? No. Your question about what is relevant to today's needs is as persuasive as the shop student opining that he is never going to need to know geometry, or the college prep student who thinks that geography isn't something he or she really needs to know. We graduate a high percentage of students with limited literacy of any kind let alone scientific literacy. That we graduate students with no knowledge of history, political science and basic constitutional principles and then pretend that they are informed citizens ready to exercise the franchise is suicidal. PS: An ignorance of international shipping routes is a guarantee that the individual is ignorant of any number of geopolitical considerations that should impact one's world view on a myriad of topics.
Bob Loblaw December 03, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Blah Blah Blah... one side of the mouth says "I don't want to pay any more taxes" the other side says "keep businesses out of Monroe"
Alex December 03, 2013 at 10:54 PM
An interesting reference on this Gerald: http://www.snopes.com/language/document/1895exam.asp There are some "100 year old exam questions" in that Snopes article to test yourself. There's some truth to what you're saying(according to snopes), but to Fact Checkers point, there's a lot of new tech and subject matters that they never even knew about 100 years ago. Either way, give the questions a try yourself; I bet you'd do better than you think :)
old timer December 03, 2013 at 11:18 PM
Budgets have increased when enrollment has decreased for the last several years? So less cost more and more costs more. The only thing that is clear is that we can never ever spend enough. .
Gerald M. Gaynor December 04, 2013 at 06:13 AM
Alex, the Minnesota test hit the net about two years ago and I did indeed take it. I was less than pleased with my areas of weakness and granted a whole new perspective on how my grandfather seemed so wise on so many subjects. The original point was that we should be doing a lot better than we are based on the per pupil spending. Any school system that can turn out students who can't differentiate between the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution isn't doing an adequate job at any price.
Geezer December 04, 2013 at 07:48 AM
Regardless of the accuracy of the per child cost, I think it's safe to say that a new family moving into Monroe with one child will get more service return for their taxes than they actually pay in taxes. If they have multiple children, the result is even more compounded. Rather than driving the older people out, seems as if we should be encouraging them to come in just like we want more commercial business.
zoo December 04, 2013 at 08:39 AM
If you were paying taxes in 2004 on a $200,000 assessed value you paid $4578 in taxes at at a mill rate of 22.88. Today with a mill rate of 30.41 (2013) that same $200,000 house would be paying $6082 in taxes. So where is that money going and more important why hasn't my salary grown at that same rate?


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