Unprecedented times call for unprecedented action, appears to be the motto for Woodbridge Elementary School District’s unusually large budget request for the 2022-23 school year. The Education Committee at its December 20 meeting unanimously approved a budget for the 2022-23 school year that represents a 13.5% increase in spending over this year’s budget. The total requirement is $17.6 million, up from $15.5 million this year.
“We view this budget as a correction,” board member Maria Madonick said after hearing the superintendent’s presentation. The city must provide its schools with the resources they need, including staff, she said. “You’re overloaded [with challenges]’ she said of that school year. “This budget helps correct some of those shortcomings.”
The main drivers of the budget are salaries (12.6%), which include a number of new positions, and health insurance costs (18.3%). The base salary increases for the state-certified class teachers, a contract negotiated and arbitrated three years ago, are 1.25%. Coupled with step increases and additional teaching and support staff, the total salary increase is in the double-digit range. “Education is a people-intensive business,” said School Supt. Johnathan Budd presenting the numbers.
In terms of teaching staff, the proposed budget includes an additional kindergarten teacher based on the enrollment forecast for the school year ’22-’23; an additional special services teacher, a position existing this year but funded by a grant; and an additional STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) teacher.
The school management also advocated an additional social worker and an additional part-time psychologist. The current social worker, who holds a part-time position, supports 30 students with a range of intense support needs, said Cheryl Kiesel, director of special services. As for psychologists, the school now employs 2.5, but with increased needs for services, the budget would provide an additional 0.1 post.
To support both teachers and students, Dr. Budd is hiring 10 additional teaching assistants (TAs), four of whom will be tasked with providing services to students with special needs. The other six would be allocated to general education grants. Teacher assistants are “neither supplemental nor supplemental,” said Dr. Budd. Rather, they are an essential part of helping students learn independently and provide both academic and behavioral support, he said.
As part of his household presentation, Dr. Budd provided a graph to illustrate how the number of TAs had shifted from general education to special education in recent years. Currently the school has 6.5 TAs for 43 classrooms. The addition of six additional TAs will bring the district closer to where it was five years ago when the faculty had the support of 15 TAs.
The decision in 2018 to bring outplaced special needs students back into the building actually resulted in significant savings for the district. But it contributed to this shift in TAs. Finding suitable classrooms was also a challenge. As a result, there are several teaching stations in The Commons and the Rotunda. As the building is used more intensively, the school needs an additional half-time caretaker.
Other increases are driven by general inflationary pressures, such as for materials and inventories (+12.2%), transport and fuel costs, and heat and electricity. For example, the position for heat is up 41%, from $179,000 to $253,000.
The budget also includes some building-related expenses, namely the planning phase for the roof replacement. The roof project is actually part of the city’s capital plan for this year and was supposed to be funded as part of a composite package that hasn’t gone ahead. Instead, the district budgeted $13,600 for roof construction in its 2022-23 operating budget and added the actual work to the capital plan. It calls for the complete roof replacement of the K Wing ($337,000) and D Wing/Library ($350,000), and the work would be completed in the summer of 2023, with total costs spread over two fiscal years.
The 2022-23 capital plan also includes floor replacement ($141,855) and planning for a potential building restructuring, repurposing and expansion ($125,000). The Board of Education established an ad hoc capital plan committee in the fall of 2021 to review future building needs. Similarly, the district has budgeted for any necessary upgrades to its mechanics ($20,000) and network cabling ($20,000).
The Superintendent pointed out several programs that are not funded in this budget but should be considered as long-term goals, such as: B. Additional support for English learners; additional interventionists and curriculum experts; additional music for strings/band from class 3; Additional services for gifted and gifted students; and possibly an additional world language option for the intermediate level. “Such options are available in various counties that Woodbridge is comparable to,” he noted.
The members of the Education Committee unanimously supported the proposed school budget. Board Chair Lynn Piascyk thanked her fellow board members for their support for the school and for their respect for taxpayers. She emphasized that the district administration would keep readjusting the numbers over time, for example whether the additional kindergarten teacher could be filled internally.
“I want to reassure city leaders and the community that our board and administrative team are constantly reviewing[the budget],” she said. “By voting on this budget, we’re doing what we really think is best for the school while also respecting the taxpayer. I feel very passionate about it. We have a great place here at Beecher Road School and we want to keep making it great. If we think we can cut something from the budget, I think we will.”
For example, the board asked superintendent and interim executive director Richard Huot to study whether joining a larger health insurance pool could reduce the jumps in insurance costs imposed on the district. The district is in the insurance pool with the city employees. Another suggestion from Jay Dahya, chairman of the board’s finance committee, was the creation of a special education reserve fund so that the district would be less vulnerable to the unpredictable financial impact.
Board Member Brooke Hopkins noted that Beecher students do very well on standardized tests and commended the teachers for making this possible under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. She expressed hope that the board – and by extension the city – will support teachers in hiring TAs.
Board member Mike Strambler pointed out that the school was understaffed in terms of the social worker. “It’s important for us to have the resources to support children and families,” he said.
Teachers’ pay consists of a percentage increase combined with incremental increases for the first 13 years of the apprenticeship. The levels therefore increase the total salaries paid to the younger teachers as they gain experience. However, they do not apply to long-term teachers. The current package was negotiated three years ago and ended in arbitration. The result was a three-year contract:
- for the 2020-21 school year: a general wage increase of 1.25% plus an estimated extra cost of 2.18% for a total cost of 3.43%;
- for the 2021-22 school year, an overall salary increase of 0% plus an estimated extra cost of 2.30% for a total cost of 2.30%; and
- for the 2022-23 school year, a general wage increase of 1.25% plus an estimated extra cost of 2.03% for a total cost of 3.28%.
dr Budd pointed out that the further away the year is from the award’s issue date, in this case October 2019, the more approximate the additional cost will be. The next round of negotiations is scheduled to begin in the summer.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent