Monroe schools face unpopular cuts, but nothing is set in stone

MONROE, Conn. — Sheila Casinelli, director of instruction and development for Monroe public schools, says 30 to 40 kids from each of the town’s three elementary schools take advantage of a summer reading program that allows them to work closely with an instructor twice a week.

Acting Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza told Board of Education members at their Tuesday night meeting how the four-week-program helps struggling students avoid the “summer slide.”

But the popular program may be among the cuts educators will have to make to cover $1 million in reductions to their 2020-21 budget proposal. The board went over two lists of possibilities, though members will not vote on anything until their second meeting in May.

“These are not set in stone,” Chairwoman Donna Lane said. “This is not something we’re voting on tonight.”

Lane said the two lists totaling just under $1 million worth of cuts submitted by Kobza are “fluid” and things could change as new information comes in. She praised administrators for working hard to minimize the impacts on children.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jack Zamary had proposed increasing the Board of Education budget by 5.7 percent over the current year. But the school board reduced that by $500,000 for a 4.88 percent hike.

Then First Selectman Ken Kellogg cut it by another $500,000. His $91.5 million town budget proposal includes $59,540,842 for education — a $2,294,102 or 4.01 percent increase.

After the Board of Education scales back its 2020-21 budget to accommodate the $1 million in reductions, the Board of Finance could potentially cut the budget again.

A list of possibilities

Cutting the Elementary Summer Reading program would save $24,000.

Kobza also said he has been working closely with William Jarosko, manager of buildings and grounds, to save another $150,000 on maintenance. Kobza said a plan is in place without that money.

Other proposed cuts on a list totaling $497,709 include $9,500 for furniture replacement, $5,500 for a high jump mat, $3,000 in insurance broker savings and $30,000 for the Jockey Hollow Big Ideas Math online program.

Kobza said the math instructional leader worked with his staff and found they have the resources they need for next year without the online program.

Professional development conference registration fees could be cut to save $11,725. Kobza said he hopes grant funds can support some of this work.

Another $46,400 could be cut for Teachers College professional development.

“We have built momentum to where a lot of teachers can lead training,” Kobza said, of the reading program from Columbia University, which he credits for students in Monroe’s three elementary schools having among the highest scores in the state in reading on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.

More cuts may include $99,327 for grades K-5 coordinators. Monroe has a K-5 math coordinator and a K-5 science coordinator, who coordinate curriculum for those subjects in all of the district’s elementary schools.

Kobza said both would return to regular teaching positions, while possibly doing some of that work after school.

Other cuts could include $54,272 for a secretary. The location is not specified. If nobody leaves at the end of the year, Kobza said it could mean a layoff.

Rounding out the list is $31,360 for interns, $21,625 for a Masuk High School work program and $11,000 for a mail courier.

Kobza said students in the high school work program will get out once instead of twice a day. “We can do a lot of that in-house and save money on transportation,” he said.

He said eliminating the internship program could have negative impacts, because the district has saved money on substitute teachers in the past, because of the interns filling in. Kobza said talented participants have often come back as new teacher hires.

The second list

A second list of potential cuts totals $485,345.

It includes moving the Alternative High School into Masuk. Kobza said he spoke to James Augustine, Monroe’s former superintendent who is now a consultant, about it and they agreed it would save more than the $48,000 lease the district currently pays for its space at Tollgate Plaza, because it also pays for heat and utilities.

However, Kobza said there may be other costs, such as minor construction to make students more comfortable in their new space.

While the plan would be to have a separate area for the Alternative High School inside Masuk, Board of Education member, Dr. Alan Vaglivelo, said the reason some students take alternative education is to avoid the large environment there.

Jerry Stevens, another board member, wondered how many other high schools have their alternative high school in the same building.

Other potential cuts include $8,300 in rink locker fees for the Masuk boys hockey team team, $80,000 for four paraprofessionals.

Kobza said there is usually a lot of movement of paraprofessionals coming in and leaving for other opportunities. If four leave at the end of the year, he said the district would not backfill the positions. But if everyone stays, he said it could mean layoffs.

Other cuts could be $4,000 for a technology integrator at Masuk High School, $74,058 from a Jockey Hollow STEM teacher retirement (though a new teacher could be hired at a lower salary), $260,000 for two full time equivalent positions at Masuk and $10,313 for a custodian.

Kobza said the two full time equivalents are a loss in positions, not people.

Things may change

Vaglivelo expressed concerns over the summer reading program and asked if there are other efforts to get children to read over the summer.

Fawn Hollow Principal Rebecca Kosisko said schools do several things, including sending letters to families encouraging reading, participating in a summer reading challenge and teachers having their class read the first book of a series at the end of the year, in hopes they continue to read over the summer.

Vaglivelo said eliminating the summer reading program could lead to more children needing special education.

Nick Kapoor, a board member, noted that cuts in maintenance could lead to higher costs down the road.

“Again, this is going to change as the months and weeks go on and we get more information,” Lane said. “Alan, that summer reading program might come back on.”

1 Comment

  1. The Alternative high school is a joke send it back to Masuk. Any given day the students are hanging out, some smoking or playing basketball. $5,500 for a high jump mat, seriously. Rink locker fees let’s the parents pay. I am so tired year after year of paying high taxes. Enough. Teachers got there raise, my husband didn’t get his. Not everyone in this town makes a six figure income or live in a fancy home. I am sure a lot of families are struggling to make ends meet.

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