School board discusses enrollment, budget and playing fields

board of education boe sign darien

In its first official meeting since the election, held on Tuesday, Nov. 13, the Board of Ed discussed storm preparation, budget projections and the increasing demand for space in the classrooms and on the fields.

The first order of business was a by-the-book reorganization after the recent election that brought in new member Katie Stein, who replaced former member George Reilly. Betsy Hagerty-Ross was unanimously elected as board chairperson by her peers. Clara Sartori and Heather Shea were elected vice chairperson and secretary, respectively. All three women received praise during the swift nomination process.

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Updates after the storm
Current budget outlook
2012-13 Budget Projections and Recommendations
Building and field maintenance
Board approved actions
Future meeting times

Updates after the storm

Dr. Stephen Falcone, superintendent of schools, shared that the district buildings fared well after the storm and the high school served the community as a shelter. On the first night of the storm, the school accommodated six people. There were 75 people the next night. Before the storm, dying trees were trimmed which minimized damage.

Students made up one school day on Election Day but still lack four more. The scheduled year-end was on Wednesday, June 12 but will be changed to Tuesday, June 18. The summer school director suggested that summer classes start on July 1, according to Falcone. Though winter storms are unpredictable, three winter closings were scheduled and Falcone recommended that school end no later than Friday, June 21. This would be possible by changing scheduled professional development days.

“If we went beyond that we’d have to go into the following week,” he said, “and not adjust February and April.”

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Updates on current budget outlook

The administration reported on budget transfers and projections for the better part of the meeting. Dick Huot, finance director, told the board that “all of the major indicators are positive” for the 2012-13 fiscal year. Budget transfers discussed during the last meeting in addition to this round would “clean up negative issues.” As of November 9, Huot calculated a budget of $422,126 with a note that it is only the first quarter of the year.

The increasing number of long-term substitutes and official leaves including for maternity and major illnesses have already brought up costs this year. There are at least 15 personnel members on leave. During the 2011-2012 school year, there were about 35 teachers on leave, which required long-term substitutes. By February, the situation put the budget over by $186,000. The health insurance account provided a credit that was used to cover the cost of additional teachers, Huot said.

Utility costs are tracked but “not much of a concern,” he said, because the prices are locked for electricity and oil. The district’s expected revenue is not clear at this point in time, Huot said, but he expects about two million from the excess cost grant. The state will publish excess cost funding next week.

The budget for tree maintenance was expended, Huot said, before the storm in October. The schools actually spent $1,388 over the expected number. Further work will require transfers from positive accounts, Huot said.

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2012-13 Budget Projections and Recommendations

The district is expected to spend $86,817,471, not accounting for over three million in projected revenue. Spending on personnel is expected to be 3.1% higher than this year.

In the five-year budget projections, special education operation costs have been changed from a 6.5% increase to 8.5%, every year between 2013 and 2017. The updated projections include a furniture replacement plan between 2013 and 2017. The district would be spending about 110,000 to 120,000 each year.

Enrollment is expected to increase by 40 students at the elementary level and 27 at the high school, and decrease by ten at Middlesex in 2013. The district could have a major problem if certain grade levels receive an unexpected number of students because extra space is limited. Additional staff would also be necessary.

There is a projected absorption rate, or the number of students over the expected number schools can enroll without having to add additional sections. Next year, Hindley will not be able to absorb any kindergarten students and only one first grader over projections. The rate is zero for Holmes’ fourth grade and Ox Ridge fifth grade.

Increasing enrollment in the future will definitely have an impact on ELP classrooms because the schools were not built to house ELP and the district must consider other options, Falcone said. This year there are 110 sections for kindergarten through fifth grade, plus 6 ELP sections. For next year, 114 sections should be expected, not including ELP, Falcone said. It is definitely a “space issue,” he said. If projections for 2014-15 are correct, there will be 117 sections, which would not leave any space for ELP. A consultant for this issue would cost the district about $50,000, according to Falcone.

The pre-kindergarten program is already in multiple buildings and continuing to do spread it across the district is not favorable. “It’s a robust program [and] serves kids well but we need space,” he said, “We don’t want to encroach on 35 Leroy but it’s a space.” The district could also look at portable space, building on existing school property or using commercial real estate to increase space, he said.

“We cant compromise ELP or other school programs,” he said, “We’ve used space very flexibly.”

The district may request $500 for books based on the new Common Core goals. The changes will require new teacher evaluations and possibly new software to track the evaluations.
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Building and field maintenance plans

The updated six year capital plan prioritizes repairs to oil tanks and generator upgrades at all of the schools. All of the district’s technology, telephones and databases rely on the internet, which means that they will not function if power goes out, said Mike Lynch, facilities director. Darien High School should receive a new generator next year, a $300,000 cost plus $25,000 in repairs. Since the high school serves as a shelter, the hot water, heat, elevators and refrigerators must also stay on.

The older generator would go to Middlesex as a replacement. The capital project plan presented by Lynch budgets $250,000 for the installation. The middle school’s generator would go to Ox Ridge. Installing the emergency generators at Holmes, Hindley and Ox Ridge will cost $150,000. Tokeneke’s upgrade will cost $40,000.

Jim Plutte, board member, questioned whether the Board of Finance will approve “more money than we usually spend.” Mike Lynch, facilities director, did not expect the board to do so but said that he has backup plans.

A report on possible costs for replacing grass fields with turf, and replanting the natural fields, presented by Falcone, which he suggested be included in short and long-term projections. Darien High School will replace the turf at their fields starting in 2015. The stadium field turf will be replaced in 2015, on target with its expected lifespan, for a predicted cost of about $500,000 to $600,00. The oval turf and baseball turf field will be replaced in the 2017 and 2018 school years, respectively. The replacements are expected to cost about $25,000 to $50,000 less than the stadium for each.

The natural grass fields at the other district schools would have similar costs, though there are currently no plans for transition to turf. The district collected $110,031 from sports groups to fund field maintenance.
The board brought up the issue of high demand for the fields by the school and the community. Falcone said he has not spoken with Jayme Stevenson about creating more field space in town.

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Board approved actions

The board approved a $3,902.50 gift from Holmes’ Parent Teacher Organization to purchase various items including seven bookcases, ten (book fair, bingo night, cafeteria) tables, and radio for the gym. Ross said she believed buying new tables is the responsibility of the board and should be part of the next inventory.

In December, the budget report will include two new columns from a new computer program that calculates current staff numbers and projected new staffing numbers.

The Board accepted the resignation of Matt Byrnes, assistant superintendent of secondary schools.
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Future meeting times

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012.
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