MONROE, CT — Jockey Hollow Middle School Principal Julia Strong presented new requests in her school’s budget, beyond contractual obligations like salaries, benefits and utilities, to the Board of Education Tuesday night.
“There’s a few notable increases that were offset by tightening up in some other places,” Strong told the board.
The new requests include a SawStop table saw for tech ed class, a four-percent increase in bus transportation for sports, and funds for Unified Sports and lumber and art supplies for Unified Arts classes.
Strong said savings on line items for things like paper and other office supplies offset much of the new expenses, resulting in a $5,927 increase. The budget request includes STEM Academy and the main campus.
Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza is asking for a $68.1 million budget for Monroe’s public schools, which represents a 5.77 percent increase over the current $64.4 million budget. On Tuesday, principals for all five of the town’s schools spoke about their requests.
Kobza said 5.02 percent of the increase is for contractual obligations, so the school board is focusing on the remaining 0.75 percent of new spending in its review of the fiscal plan for 2023-24.
Jockey Hollow’s current enrollment is 778 students, though a loss of 24 students is projected for the 2023-24 school year. But Strong said last year’s projections were for 39 less students than Jockey Hollow ended up having, so her staff does not anticipate the 24-student-drop will happen.
Strong said the big expansion in enrollment in Monroe’s elementary schools does not seem to have made it to the middle school yet, so staffing at Jockey Hollow was kept flat in Kobza’s budget proposal.
Protecting students’ fingers
Strong said the request for a $4,300 table saw will improve safety in tech ed class, which currently has a saw without the latest safety guards on it.
“Because of that, when students are using the table saw the teacher has to be working with them one-to-one and students have more limited access to it,” she said.
Tech ed class has 550 students and Strong said it is important to expose them to more opportunities for hands on learning.
The additional funding for Unified Sports will put it on equal footing with other sports, according to Strong. She praised the job special education has done finding grant money to pay for the program, but said an increase in participation led to higher costs.
High participation in Unified Arts classes led to an increase in costs for lumber and art supplies needed for hands on learning, Strong said.
Christine Cascella, a board member, expressed frustration over the difficulty the district has had providing bus transportation at times.
“A four percent increase means nothing if you don’t provide it,” she said of the request for more money for bus transportation for sports.
Chairman David Ferris noted how there are hiring issues all over, which is also affecting bus companies.
Strong said there were times when Michael Lawlor, All-Star Transportation’s manager of bus transportation for Monroe, has driven a bus for her school when there was a shortage or a driver was out sick.
If the situation does not improve soon, Cascella wondered if more parents will have to drive their kids to school.
Strong attributes improving technology with the downward trend in expenses for paper and other office equipment and supplies, which helped educators offset much of the new costs in this budget cycle.
Dr. Alan Vaglivelo, a board member, asked if the computers for STEM Academy are up-to-date.
“We don’t have a Chromebook for every single student,” Strong said. “We continue to provide Chromebooks on an as needed basis.”
Vaglivelo said he remembers when computer upgrades were needed in the past.
“We don’t need a technology update at STEM, but the computers for technology education class at the main campus, those are more toward the end of their life,” Strong said. “We’re looking to get more out of the technology that we have.”
“We got a $200,000 IT grant,” Ferris said. “We’re applying some of that to capital. Paul does a good job of making sure all of that is kept up to date,” he added of Paul Koorse, director of technology for Monroe Public Schools.
Follow the cool kid
Jerry Stevens, a board member, noted how some classes have 28 and 29 students. “What are you doing innovatively to handle the larger class sizes?” he asked.
Strong said class sizes vary more in middle school than elementary school, because older students have more choices of electives. While some are large, she said other classes only have 19 students.
“A cool kid can take music and others follow,” Strong said of the fluctuations in class sizes. “I think Masuk’s class sizes are similar too for the same reason, but we don’t want class sizes of 28s, we want 25s.”
Justin Orlando, a board member, asked if there are any issues with classes of 28 students, such as data showing more students underperforming.
Strong said a teacher can give more time to each student in a 42 minute class of 22 than 28.
Orlando said larger classes require more independence and autonomy from students. Strong agreed, adding how college lectures could have hundreds of students, who will be fine. But when middle school students need more help, she said there isn’t enough time in a period for a large class.
“We try to keep class sizes as small as possible, so we have the most teacher time available to the students who need it,” Strong said. “But no, it’s not a sentence for your kid to be in a big class, it just has to skew them towards autonomy.”
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