Board of Education Forwards $55.88 Million School Budget
WETHERSFIELD - A proposed $55.88 million Wethersfield School budget, an increase of 3.75 percent over the 2013-14 fiscal year, cleared the first hurdle of the approval process at the Board of Education’s Feb. 25 meeting.

       The Board voted 7-1 to move the proposed expenditure, over $1.9 million more than last year’s $53 million figure, to the Town Council for deliberation.

       Negotiated agreements, particularly staff salary raises, benefit-related bumps, and federal and state mandates such as magnet school tuition, were cited as some of the primary budget drivers in Superintendent of Schools Michael Emmett’s presentation.

       Unionized administrative staff will see a 7.57 percent wage increase, as mandated by their contract, while Emmett and Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Human Resources Timothy Howes will be entering a pay freeze period. Also factored into the projected increase is the addition of a math instructional supervisor, according to Emmett’s presentation.

       “That’s certainly a cost factor--making sure we’re budgeting for professional development,” Emmett said.

       The district has gotten some help with that recently. A $29,000 grant will add tutors at Wethersfield High School--something it did not have before, Emmett said.

       Teachers will also see more compensation. Part of the proposed budget is a 1.38 percent certified staff increase driven by contract-mandated step raises.

       One of the larger increases pertaining to benefits was in retirement, a 53.7 percent hike, according to the presentation. In total, anticipated expenditures for employee benefits will jump by 4.8 percent.

       Pupil tuition is expected to go up by just a little over 11 percent, according to the presentation. Wethersfield had 258 of its students enrolled in magnet schools in 2013, compared to just 46 ten years ago, according to Emmett.

       “The draw of magnet schools has certainly created a challenge,” Emmett said. “If a student goes out to a magnet school, I’m paying that tuition, and if they get special education services, I’m paying for that, as well.”

       Emmett estimated that between 45 and 51 of the outplaced students will be receiving special education services.

       “But what happens is you have costs of tuition going up year-to-year,” he said. “So you have to factor that in, as well.”

       Like other districts, Wethersfield hopes to offset that through open choice funds. It got an additional $50,000 this year for opening up more seats--eight at the middle school and high school levels--and brought the total open choice enrollment from Hartford up to 72 students, Emmett said.

       Historically, the district has tried to limit open choice enrollment to kindergarten level, he said.

       “So students start their [Wethersfield] academic career in kindergarten,” Emmett said. “It’s a much smoother transition.”

       Speaking of transitions, the district is also preparing to switch from administering the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) to the computer-based Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). The problem, as parents who attended last Monday night’s SBA forum at Silas Deane Middle School pointed out, is how to ensure schools have enough technology for the test.

       A technology grant worth $198,000 will help the district purchase iPad keyboards and headphones, Emmett said.

       “In terms of our technology, we’ll certainly be ready to implement the Smarter Balanced Assessment,” he said.