MONROE, CT — Acting Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza presented a list of proposed cuts to the Board of Education to make up for a $1,038,898 budget hole, should teachers not agree to forgo raises in fiscal year 2020-21. The town budget the Board of Finance is expected to adopt tonight assumes all unions will agree not have raises this year.
While unhappy with the proposed cuts, Kobza also expressed hope not all of it will be necessary. He thanked teachers for agreeing to negotiate with the school district out of care for their students.
“We are trying to keep the impact as far away from kids as possible, but there comes a point where that is impossible,” Kobza said during a Board of Education meeting held via Zoom Monday night.
Chairman Donna Lane said the board will vote on the $1 million in cuts from Superintendent Jack Zamary’s original proposal and, if necessary, the $1,038,898 Board of Finance cut, together at a meeting on June 22.
The list Kobza presented includes a $13,504 excess from original reductions and anticipates $127,328 in insurance savings. Kobza said the district had budgeted for a 10 percent increase in its medical and dental insurance, before the state plan came out with a 6.5 percent increase.
The district can also realize $40,000 in savings for toner and another $11,993 reduction in its copier lease.
The list proposed a $50 increase in the Masuk High School athletic surcharge, from $250 to $300 per athlete. This would raise $30,000, according to Kobza’s projection.
“We know there is a point of diminishing returns when you raise it too high,” Kobza said, recalling a past year when the surcharge was raised and participation went down.
Eliminating an administrator “systemwide” would save $130,000. Kobza said the workload would have to be reallocated among other administrators.
Student clubs could be lost from a $92,200 cut in club stipends. A marketing program at the high school would also be eliminated, saving $84,262.
Masuk’s culinary program would be eliminated with a $101,060 cut and culinary supplies would be cut by $9,000.
Kobza said having a culinary program after Covid-19 would be difficult as it is, but conceded, “I know it is a passion for some students.”
A full time equivalent library media specialist for the district would be eliminated saving $77,700 and the elimination of a districtwide music teacher position for grade 5 band and strings would save another $52,000.
The district would also eliminate four reading teachers, saving $271,134.
‘The worst case scenario’
“It was a hard weekend to sleep knowing I would present this today,” Kobza said, adding his only solace was teachers’ willingness to negotiate on their raises.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” Lane said of the union and the district reaching an agreement enabling them to avoid some of these cuts, adding the list is “the worst case scenario.”
Jerry Stevens, a Board of Education member, said everyone is working hard to prevent the cuts from happening and fellow board member, David Ferris, expressed his hope of the unions will help them.
Dr. Alan Vaglivelo, a board member, asked who would do reading intervention at Monroe’s elementary schools if the four reading teachers are cut. Kobza said other staff would have to fill the void.
Nick Kapoor, a board member, said he is not happy with the cut list, but added his appreciation that the school district has a plan and how administrators have worked hard and been creative to avoid hurting the children as much as possible.
After mentioning news stories of school systems like Trumbull, which is facing drastic budget cuts due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kapoor said Monroe is in better shape compared to its neighboring districts.
If these cuts must be made, Kapoor expressed his hope some of the lost programs and positions will come back in future years.
Lane said all of the cuts hurt and are disappointing for administrators as well. “No one wants to make these cuts,” she said. “It’s difficult.”
Lane said she has also had trouble sleeping and has often called Kobza in the morning to suggest ideas to reduce the blow to education programs.
George A. King III, a board member, said the entire list includes difficult things to cut, but if some can be avoided, he is most concerned about the four reading teachers and the culinary program.
Board members, Christina Cascella and Shannon Monaco, also said they do not like seeing the potential cuts. Monaco praised administrators for working hard and “thinking outside the box” in an effort to avoid hurting kids.
Ronald Bunovsky, finance director for the district, said it has been “a painful process” with Kobza routinely holding meetings from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He said the proposed reductions were not taken lightly, adding Kobza, Central Office staff and school principals are doing a phenomenal job.