Kobza seeks 5.39% budget increase amid Monroe schools’ rising enrollment

Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza presents his budget request for 2022-23 to the Board of Education Monday night.

MONROE, CT — Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza is proposing a $64.8 million budget for Monroe’s public schools for fiscal year 2022-23, a 5.39 percent increase over current spending.

Growing student enrollment, especially at the elementary school level, is driving a need for more teachers, specialists and non-certified staff, according to Kobza. He said his request addresses the sustained enrollment increase over the past two years.

Kobza’s request is for $3,315,735 or 5.39 percent more than the current $61.5 million budget, but the total may be revised several times before it gets to voters.

The Board of Education has scheduled a series of workshops to review different aspects of the budget, before voting on a revised proposal and sending it to First Selectman Ken Kellogg. Kellogg can make adjustments, before sending it to the Board of Finance, which will review it and approve a final proposal for voters to decide on at a budget referendum.

In his presentation to the Board of Education Monday night, Kobza said salaries and benefits are the main drivers in the requested increase, with salaries going up by $2,937,764 (7.76 percent) and benefits by $551,121 (4.97 percent).

Included in those numbers is proposed funding for 19.15 certified staff positions. This year, student enrollment rose by 168 students (as of Nov. 29). The total enrollment is 3,366 students and there are 267.15 certified staff positions.

In years when enrollment was comparable, 3,488 in 2012-13 and 3,379 in 2013-14, Kobza notes there were 13 to 17 more certified staff than the district has now.

Of the 19.15 certified positions, 9.45 are already allocated or earmarked in the budget — paid for through grant funds, according to Kobza. He said most of the grant funding will dry up after next year, so he’s attempting to pay for these positions through the operating budget instead.

This includes a 0.25 English language learner (ELL) for the district, one K-5 math-science coordinator for the district, a 0.2 social worker for the district, a 0.4 school psychologist for Jockey Hollow, two kindergarten teachers for Fawn Hollow and Stepney elementary schools, two elementary school teachers for Fawn Hollow and Stepney, and one special education teacher for Masuk/STEM Academy.

The other requested positions not currently in the budget are:

  • 3.0 Elementary Teachers (ME & FH)
  • 3 x 0.4 Music, Art, PE (Elementary)
  • 1.0 Library Media Specialist (SE)
  • 1.0 Pre- K Teacher
  • 0.2 Pre-K School Psychologist
  • 2.0 Special Education (MHS & JH)
  • 0.4 Speech & Language (SW)
  • 1.0 School Social Worker (SW)
  • 0.5 ELL (SW)
  • 1.0 K-5 ELA Coordinator (SW)
  • 1.0 Chemistry/Physics (MHS)

In the above list, ME is Monroe Elementary School, FH is Fawn Hollow Elementary School, SE is Stepney Elementary School, JH is Jockey Hollow Middle School, MHS is Masuk High School and SW is system wide.

All three elementary school principals — Leigh Metcalf Ances of Fawn Hollow, Kelly Svendsen of Monroe Elementary and Ashley Furnari of Stepney — attended Monday’s school board meeting and agreed the positions are needed to handle more sections in some grades due to growing enrollment.

Sheila Casinelli, the district’s English language arts coordinator for grades K-5, also spoke of the need.

David Ferris, who was elected as the school board’s new chairman Monday, said he spoke with all three principals about their budget requests.

“Their budgets are very well thought out,” Ferris said. “They’re based on needs.”

Both Ferris and Kobza thanked the principals for their hard work in putting together reasonable budget requests.

Kobza said some things within his budget proposal are based upon estimates, because he has to make his request before everything is known, such as how much State funding the district will receive and what the medical insurance premiums increase will be.

For example, in his budget proposal, Kobza estimated the medical insurance premiums will rise by 8 percent. If the actual increase is different, the budget can be adjusted.

“The budget is not a sprint,” Kobza said. “It’s a marathon — and we’re going to get a lot of information over the next few months.”

The next budget workshop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday, Dec. 8, at Masuk High School. Topics will include Jockey Hollow, Masuk, athletics and I.T.

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