Darien Superintendent reveals proposed school budget of $ 110 million, including open choice plan


DARIEN – As budget season begins, the school district is looking to implement the state’s Open Choice program, which would send 16 students from surrounding districts to Darien elementary schools.

The discussion of the program came when Superintendent Alan Addley presented his draft budget for the 2022-23 school year.

“This is one of the aspects of the budget I’m looking forward to the most,” Addley told school board members on a Saturday Budget discussion and adds that enrollment in the nationwide program has been discussed for years. “I say this, I think it is certainly good for the children who come in. But I think it’s also good and enriches the experience for our entire community. To be honest, if we can’t, I don’t know who can. “

Addley’s proposed budget is $ 110,832,569, a 3.95 percent increase in spending over this fiscal year. During a previous meeting with the Education Committee, Addley cited an increase in health and contract costs as the main reason for this year’s proposed increase. Personnel and material costs make up more than 70 percent of the budget.

Addley said that in addition to implementing Open Choice, the district is also looking to hire a number of new employees, including a groundskeeper who would maintain the exterior of all schools. Several new courses are also on the table, and an outdoor classroom proposed for Middlesex Middle School has also been discussed.

Education committee members discussed the proposed budget – including the Open Choice program – and heard from campus leaders about potential new programs and staff in their schools.

Elementary schools

With the exception of Royle, Darien’s other elementary schools would host the 16 children who would be taking part in the Open Choice program starting this fall. These children would likely be brought in by bus from Norwalk.

Parishioners and some board members who endorsed the program said it would bring the much-needed variety of students and experiences to the city, benefiting both Darien students and students from another district.

However, some principals expressed reservations about the timing of the introduction and questioned the cost per student.

“When I supported the idea of ​​Open Choice, I had a much (more) normal school year in mind. One of my concerns is that we are currently struggling to meet the needs of our own students in this environment, ”said Board Member John Sini, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I support the idea, but I want to start very slowly.”

Addley, who said he was firm on the program, argued that there may not be a better time. The state provides $ 3,000 per student, he said.

Board member Tara Ochman agreed, saying the city had previously used the same reasoning to prevent adoption of the Open Choice program years ago.

She pointed to other cities that have successfully adopted the program, including Westport.

“This program has been around for decades. It’s not new, it’s not risky, ”Ochman said. “I’m sorry, I feel like all of the arguments I’ve seen are the arguments I’ve seen against it for years. It’s never a good time unless you decide it is about time. “

Schools don’t have to participate every year, though Addley said he hoped Darien would be an annual participant in Open Choice.

Middle school

Rector Karolyn Rodriguez said this year’s budget The proposal envisages a Mandarin language course at Middlesex Middle School that would begin in sixth grade.

In addition, $ 9,000 is earmarked for a new initiative called Genius Hour, a research-based, student-led learning opportunity that would cover research and presentation skills, Rodriguez said. Middlesex students would pursue their own research interests in a semi-structured environment, culminating in a presentation fair, she said.

“I think it’s important to give students some kind of choice in their education,” said Rodriguez. “And so once a month they can really pursue a unique and individual interest that they can share with the rest of their colleagues. To be successful, they have to hone certain skills – not only in school, but also in life. “

Another item discussed – but not officially part of the budget – is an outdoor classroom proposed for middle school. The idea was “bred from COVID,” said Rodriguez, and is intended to encourage students to be in nature as they study.

The classroom would be in the courtyard in front of the library, with stadium-style benches, an outside TV and whiteboard, and a huge shadow, Rodriguez said.

“It just gives (students) a new environment that is kind of refreshing in the middle of the day,” she told the board members. “You can go outside and just have classes out there, work together, work together in a different environment.”

While the classroom is not included in this year’s budget, Addley told school board members that funding for the project could potentially be raised through a volunteer group or community organization.

“I thought it would be an exciting opportunity … again something that comes with the COVID experience,” he said.


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