MONROE, CT — Jockey Hollow Middle School Principal Julia Strong has struggled to fill two non-certified math tutor positions. In the past year alone, the school lost five tutors who left for more “lucrative” jobs — in one case, Kohl’s, according to Strong’s presentation to the Monroe Board of Education at its meeting on Jan. 2.
“We have kids sitting in study halls scheduled for math intervention that we can’t provide, because of the nature of this position,” Strong told board members. “With the 25 hour non-certified position, we just really had an awful hard time getting people with the secondary level math ability to come in and to do the work.”
In the middle school, Strong said they need someone who can teach algebra, geometry and grade level mathematics to help their students.
To provide more stability, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza is asking for a full-time certified math interventionist. His budget proposal for 2024-25 would eliminate the two non-certified math tutor positions to help offset the cost of the new position.
“Yes, two people are better than one person,” Strong said, “but one certified math specialist is better than two open positions, which is what I’ve had since September.”
She estimates the new position would cost around $82,000 and told board members the two tutor positions that would be eliminated are about half the price.
But Strong also said a certified teacher brings assessment and analysis of the needs of the student, along with the expertise to give students the extra help they need to meet state standards.
Dennis Condon, a board member, said they should keep in mind the fact that the new position is a full-time one, while fellow board member Jerry Stevens noted that the two part-time positions are still not filled, adding constant turnover means a learning curve for all new hires.
‘Pretty much flat’
The portion of the budget Jockey Hollow administrators can spend money for its main campus and STEM Academy would decrease from $143,757 to $142,409 in fiscal year 2024-25.
Jockey Hollow’s current enrollment is 760 students and the projected enrollment for next fall is 767. Strong said this year’s budget is based upon last year’s projection of 766 students.
“It’s coming up pretty much flat, equivalent to what we’re operating in for this year,” she said. “In preparing that, we’re looking at a student enrollment that is also consistent, similar to what we’re looking at this year, so we feel pretty good about the budget that was prepared.”
Strong praised her department heads for looking for efficiencies to put together a fiscally responsible budget that allows Jockey Hollow to move forward without a big increase in operating costs.
“We’re starting to be farther away from that period of remote learning, so we can rely on our actuals a little bit more when we project out for the future,” she said, adding the needs of students have also evolved over time.
The major driver of the portion of the budget Strong discussed is the replenishing of instructional equipment and supplies. “We do have hands on materials that we chew up and spit out that are essential to the messy work of learning,” she said.
“We use hands-on materials in every subject area, where they support critical thinking and problem solving,” she said. “Consumable supplies and specialized equipment are especially needed in the unified arts classes — music, art, tech ed — instructional time in these areas increases in grades 6-8.”
Strong said time for physical education and team athletics increases at the middle school level, because children no longer have recess.
“We really recruit kids to team athletics as much as possible,” she said. “You’ll see increases in transportation and supplies in those areas. Keeping kids’ bodies moving definitely helps their minds grow too, so we’re committed to that in the middle school.”
‘The Call of the Wild’
Strong shared notable changes in some of the budget line items with the school board.
The Equipment Instructional line would decrease from $6,950 in fiscal year 2024 to $2,650 in 2025 — a $4,300 cut —- due to the completed purchase of a table saw. Strong said the equipment is being put to good use.
For example, Tech Ed teacher Mike Demchak led a construction project, in which students created old fashioned wooden toys like wagons and little cars to donate to Toys for Tots this year, along with personalized tags from “the Elves”.
The Textbooks – ELA line would be reduced from $2,000 to $450, because the school decided to put off buying the new novel, “The Call of the Wild” for the eighth grade for another year, according to Strong.
Supplies for World Language would be reduced from $5,300 to $3,500 to adjust for the actual cost of the AAPPL test, Strong said.
One requested increase is $4,200, for a line item that was at zero this year, to buy basketball uniforms.
“Masuk’s been good over the years about having a predictable uniform refreshment cycle, so that we can manage those costs year-in-and-year-out,” Strong explained, “and we’re just looking to establish that in the middle school as well. Our request is to get basketball rolled in with baseball and softball.”
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