Interim Supt. of Schools John Goetz believes a $52.35 million budget will allow Monroe Public Schools to meet its mission of preparing students to be "citizens in a world where they can make positive contributions to the diverse and global communities in which they learn, live and work." His proposal for fiscal year 2012-13 marks a 1.79 percent increase over current spending.
Though he told the Board of Education during its Monday night meeting that the budget would move the district forward, Goetz said the proposed spending package is also fiscally responsible.
"I like to think we're being realistic in putting out a budget the town can afford," he said.
Of 118 accounts, 68 of them either have either no increase or a spending decrease, according to Goetz. Last year, the Board of Education had a zero percent overall spending increase.
The current $51.4 million budget would increase by $923,075 if Goetz's proposal is approved without cuts. If there are cuts, he said the district would work to ensure that the lowest number of students are impacted.
The proposal does not include needs in the five-year capital plan, because most are "big ticket items" that the town would bond for. Goetz said the district's infrastructure needs will be evaluated along with other town needs by the Capital Infrastructure Facility Asset Planning Sub-Committee (CIFAP), a subcommittee of the Planning & Zoning Commission.
Goetz said there will be more discussion of the capital plan in future budget workshops.
The key drivers in the spending increase are contractual obligations, transportation costs, energy, special education, facility and technology costs, and funding for curriculum and instruction.
Goetz said just over 80 percent of the operating budget is for salaries and benefits. A salary freeze for teachers in the current year has been lifted for 2012-13.
Two full time teaching positions are being reduced at Fawn Hollow Elementary School, along with a 1.6 at Jockey Hollow Middle School. Goetz proposes adding a full time K-5 English Language Arts coordinator and a .4 physical education teacher for Jockey Hollow Middle School.
He said the English Language Arts coordinator supports the goal of having all students prepared for the Common Core standards, which Monroe Public Schools must adopt by 2014.
Student enrollment has steadily declined over the past four years, though Goetz noted that it has been stable compared to last year as classes moved from grade to grade.
As a result of declining enrollment, Goetz said the district reducted its number of certified staff by 37 over the past four years.
The interim superintendent outlined variables that could potentially drive up costs in the budget, including unpredictable things such as decreases in state and federal funding, unanticipated special education costs, consortium rates for energy costs not being set, unanticipated maintenance costs and the limited trend history in the new health benefits plan.
One aspect of the budget Goetz said the Board of Education must decide upon is how much money it wants in its Health Savings Account, which has about $2 million in it. If it's too low, then the Board of Education is at high risk for claims. But if it is too high, then money is tied up where it is not needed. He said the board should come up with a figure it is comfortable with.
Bang for Monroe's Buck
At the end of his presentation, Goetz showed how Connecticut Economy ranked Monroe as one of the top districts in the state in efficiency of resources linked to student achievement.
"Out of about 120 districts, we're in the top 20 in efficiency of using our resources," he said. "That's something important to know and that Monroe should feel good about."
The measures factoring into the ranking were teaching staff, administrative staff, computers in use, hours of instruction and students' performance in math, reading and writing.
After the presentation, Board of Education Secretary Mark Hughes praised the work of Goetz and Assistant Supt. of Schools John Battista.
"Mr. Goetz, Mr. Battista and the entire administration did an excellent job of keeping the budget under two percent this year and they are to be commended," Hughes said.
First Selectman Steve Vavrek and Town Councilwoman Debra Dutches, the liaison to the Board of Education, attended the meeting.
Though he said he has yet to take a closer look at the numbers, Vavrek did say, "I'm very happy with the talk of infrastructure and maintenance. I like the fact that you're working more with town officials and that there will be a combining of services."
Town Financial Director Carl Tomchik and Dr. Craig Tunks, head of technology for the school district, have been working together for the bundled purchase of new computers for Masuk High School, Monroe Town Hall, the police department and Edith Wheeler Memorial Library.
Tunks said the school district does not buy computers when it does not need them, as evidenced by the fact that a number of the elementary school computers are 10 years old. Masuk uses computers more, so Tunks said it will have the new computers and those replaced will upgrade the computers in the middle and elementary schools.
Steve Kirsch, who attends all of the meetings, was disappointed that the presentation did not say where the some $300,000 for the computer replacements would come from. He also wanted to hear administrators talk about things their schools need that did not make it into Goetz's budget.