Board Aiming to Avoid Staff Cuts as Non-renewal Notices Authorized
NEWINGTON - The Board of Education has voted to issue non-renewal notices to 48 of its non-tenured, certified teachers-as required by statute in the event that layoffs are a possibility-while members emphasized that it is a scenario they are looking to avoid as they work to bring their budget in line with the 0.3 percent increase authorized by the Town Council last week.

       “It’s never easy. It never goes without a lot of anxiety and stress,” said district Chief of Staff Stephen Foresi during the April 19 meeting. “We try to make everybody understand we look at all ways to amend the budget, and we hope this is our last option.”

       Superintendent of Schools Bill Collins had marked a 2.49 percent increase as the “baseline” amount needed to cover salaries and retain teaching staff, 14 of which were put on one-year contracts last spring after a Board/Council dispute over a Republican Majority proposed flat funding yielded a 1.2 percent increase-surplus retention included.

       They’ll need to find about $420,000 in other cuts to retain all positions, according to district CFO Lou Jachimowicz. During the meeting, the Board passed motions to move last year’s $515K surplus, along with over $701K in health benefit savings to a non-lapsing account established as part of a budget negotiation with the Town Council last spring.

       In a lengthy statement read at the end of the meeting, Board member Emily Guion expressed concern regarding the impact potential staff cuts would have on class sizes-already at 25 students in some third grade rooms, and 20 at the kindergarten level.

       In the prior discussion, Board member Steve Silvia asked if the Board might consider reopening teacher contracts-up for renegotiation this year anyway-for the purpose of deferring salary increases in order to save positions.

       Board member Josh Shulman said that he opposed the idea, mainly because the contracts were negotiated in good “faith”, with members of the teachers union giving concessions on areas such as health benefits to the tune of the related surpluses the district has reaped.

       Collins suggested that such a move could carry some additional risk of the unions pushing for even greater increases.

       Jachimowicz said that the $515,000-though marked as non-lapsing funds-were initially left “uncommitted” in order to give the Board flexibility over whether to direct them toward non-lapsing operating expenses or non-lapsing CIP items.

       The Board actually has around $1.2 million in health benefit credits, but left over $580K of it to help cover this year’s contractually fixed salary increases, as well as parts of a $600,000 overage in special education costs, in order to remain under the non-lapsing account’s cap-or, 1 percent of their operating budget.

       “We’re relying on nonguaranteed funds that can be wiped out with a health condition,” said Board Chair Nancy Petronio at the end of the meeting.

       The casualty in the transfers was funding originally slated for day to day maintenance-now part of the $586,000 going toward a blend of other expenses for this year.

       “That is going to create a huge hardship in maintenance,” Shulman said. “We know what happens when you don’t do your maintenance in this town, and that’s the choice we’ll have to make to avoid laying off a lot more people.”

       The Board did get the funding needed for a roof and district-wide HVAC replacement, due to a last minute Council-approved $375,000 shift from the CIP account’s $1 million John Wallace Middle School wing configuration line item.

       The conversation turned to a Board proposed $1.8 million purchase of the St. Mary’s School-to be funded with the non-lapsing surplus and health benefit credit-for Town Hall project swing space in exchange for the 2.49 percent school budget increase. The Council has not accepted the offer, with Republicans citing uncertainties regarding the cost of renovating the building for office functionality.

       “We saw future possibilities and the chance for the Town and Board to work together on common goals,” Petronio said.

       But the aforementioned question marks on additional costs made the site a potential unquantifiable “money pit ”, Silvia said.