This article is the third in a series of stories from the Monroe Board of Education’s budget workshops. Board members are reviewing Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza’s $62.1 million proposal for fiscal year 2021-22
MONROE, CT — Masuk High School Principal Steven Swensen says student enrollment is steadily increasing as more families move into town. While growth is higher in grades k-through-five, Masuk expects a larger ninth grade class next fall.
If Monroe public schools are able to go back to full in-school-learning next year, Swensen said Masuk could probably handle it by having more kids in each class. But if enrollment continues to rise, the reductions of full-time staff over the years could be a problem.
Swensen said a bell curve that a certain number of students will not be able to keep up in class is no longer acceptable. As a result, additional support is needed for students who need it, and that means more certified staff.
Districtwide, Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza said the current enrollment of 3,215 is comparable to the 2014-15 school year (3,298) and ’15-16 (3,179), but pointed to data showing certified staff (excluding administrators) is 259.16 positions compared to 277.1 in ’14-15 and 271.5 in ’15-16.
“Hey guys, we’re 18 teachers down,” Jerry Stevens, a Board of Education member, said of staff reductions during a budget workshop on Dec. 9. “That’s tremendous. It’s scary.”
As of Nov. 30, Swensen said Masuk had 1,071 students. That compares to 1,010 last year. The increase comes after years of a steady decline since Masuk had 1,312 students in 2010-11.
However, enrollment may continue to rise. The current district enrollment of 3,215 has already reached what Milone & MacBroom had projected for 2024-25.
One advantage Masuk has over the lower schools when it comes to class sizes is flexibility with scheduling, according to Kobza “It’s not as one-to-one with the elementary and middle schools,” he said, adding Masuk will continue with its current block scheduling.
Nick Kapoor, a board member, asked if there are any concerns over capacity in the building at Masuk.
“We moved Alt Ed here,” Swensen said. “That’s taken up some of the room, obviously. STEM has a hallway. In terms of empty classrooms, we have maybe one or two.”
Kapoor said the most significant growth in enrollment from last year is in grades k-12 and Kobza said that will work its way up to the high school.
As larger classes move up, Kapoor said more physical spaces will be needed. But Shannon Monaco, a board member, noted the uncertainty of the pandemic, saying classes may still be held virtually.
“If it’s hybrid, we’ll probably have the space,” she said. “We just have to plan for every scenario, because we don’t know what it will be.”
Holding down expenses
In his presentation to the board, Swensen said cuts and shifts in budget supply lines allowed the school to come in at zero and under in that area. “Where cuts could be made, in terms of supplies and things like that, we came in at zero, but obviously some things were added to the budget,” he said.
For instance, Swensen said Masuk is due for a decennial visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc., for the school’s reaccreditation.
“That comes at a price,” he said, adding of the visitors, “some come for three nights, some stay for four nights. We have to put them up. We pay the equivalent of one year’s dues of just over $4,100 on top of it.”
Swensen said the total cost of the accreditation process is just over $12,000. He said the cost will be offset within the budget this year, because $11,700 for the Biology First Initiative this year was a one time cost.
A Masuk science teacher is transferring to Jockey Hollow Middle School to help reduce class sizes there. While that will not cost Masuk any money, but Swensen said it will cost in terms of lost programs.
“So most likely at this time next year, I’ll be sitting here asking for that science teacher back,” he said.
World language and special education teacher requests cut from this year’s budget is being proposed again.
A world language position to be be shared with Jockey Hollow.
Swensen said a full-time special education teacher will need to be devoted to the alternative high school, because of the growth of the program. He said this means Masuk will be down a special education teacher, a position it needs to fill.
Swensen said an increase in English language learner (ELL) students created a need for more ELL teachers. He also said the social worker the school district shares with the town is spread too thin.