Education budget: Parents urge approval

The public hearing on the proposed 2013-14 school year budget was held in the Town Hall auditorium. (Darien Times/Yevgeniya Davydov)

Despite some Darien parents’ past concerns for school security and special education funding, only six parents — all with school organization affiliations — spoke at the only chance for public discussion of next year’s education budget.

Many of the speakers at the Tuesday night meeting, on Feb. 5, underlined their view that the current proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year is just enough to cover expenses due to increased enrollment or to make up for past budget cuts.

“In simple terms, the budget allows us to be prepared,” said Susan Vogel, co-chairman of the council. She referred to the 2010 census, which revealed that residents under the age of 18 made up 36.8% of the town’s population and 84.8% of them were in public schools.

The proposed budget would keep up with the growing school population, she said, and necessary changes for the state and federal mandates for common core state standards, teacher evaluations.

There is “universal support” for the technology plan, the second phase of which is reflected in the proposed budget, Vogel said.

Tara Ockman, council representative for Ox Ridge School, echoed the general sentiment that the proposed budget meets the “basic needs” for students.

The elementary school budget specifically, is 96% personnel contracts, Ockman said.

Shannon Silsby, Royle Parent Teacher Organization co-chairman, asked the board to fully fund the elementary school’s furniture replacement; the technology stipend, which would allow a current teacher to support some building technology; and extend school secretary contracts from 10 months to 11.

The middle school, which has a total proposed budget of $9,811,830, includes $3,140 for non-fiction reading material that would be used in various subjects as part of new common core standards.

The new books are necessary, said Julia Ford, co-chairman of the Middlesex parent teacher organization. The budget should also fund remaining technology upgrades and replacements for middle school classrooms, upgrade wireless access, and add literacy and math specialists to support administrative work, Ford said.

The specialists would be funded district-wide and would continue to support Darien’s “nurtured workshop initiative,” she said.

The special education budget, which provides funding to all grade levels, would decrease 0.45% in the 2013-14 school year with the proposed budget.

Special education can be unpredictable because there is no “mechanism” in students’ individual education plans that “captures or caps the costs of these services,” said Ann Foster, the special education representative at Middlesex.

One part that is predictable is the cost of specialists’ contracts, Foster said. The department’s decreases to contracted specialists “demonstrates fiscal responsibility and assigns staff more efficiently,” she said.

The department is requesting $49,142 for special education teachers’ professional development. Training all department teachers in specialized programs and training psychologists to recognize autism, which has steadily risen in the district, would be “efficient and cost effective,” Foster said.

Brianna Schneider, from the high school parent association, asked the board to give full funding to the proposed technology budget. Students will be taking  the new common core exams online in the coming years, she said.

Schneider also gave her support for the $20,000 proposed upgrade to the high school’s video production department, which is used to produce Blue Wave news, but also to record all school concerts, graduation and other Channel 78 events. Literacy and math specialists would be necessary to intertwine disciplines and daily instruction, she said.

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