The Woodbridge Board of Education, at its December meeting, unanimously supported a proposed 4.7% spending increase for the 2017-18 school year over the current budget. The total budget as presented by School Supt. Robert Gilbert is for $14,418,502, up from this year’s $13.8 million.
The increase reflects, in large part, contractual salary increases (2.6%) and rising outplacement costs, both traditional budget drivers. But the budget also absorbs an accounting shift, which moves the money for computer replacements at Beecher Road School from the capital and non-recurring budget to the district’s operating budget.
Other than that, the proposed budget is flat. It maintains services and does not add any teachers or other staff, in spite of projected enrollment increases, according to Supt. Gilbert. He pointed out that most classrooms will reach the upper limit of the board-set class-size guidelines, a few may even exceed it by one student, but he felt that it was within reasonable range. The guidelines suggest limiting class sizes to 17-19 students in the younger grades up to third grade; and 19-21 students for grades 4 to 6. Should the enrollment in Woodbridge continue to increase as predicted, however, the district will have to add classrooms in future years. Currently, there are 776 students enrolled in the elementary school; for 2017-18, that number is expected to jump to 811 and from there to 831.
Gilbert held onto the budget “mantra” of his predecessor, Dr. Guy Stella, to “improve the quality of education that supports the mission, vision and goals” of the board and to develop a budget that “respects the taxpayer”.
As for the $100,000 technology request — which is based on a 5-year replacement plan — it is not any more than in past years. However, the town asked the school district to show it in their operating budget, as it cannot be considered a one-time expenditure. It includes $57,000 for student iPads and printer replacements; $30,000 for faculty laptop and iPad replacements and $10,000 for document cameras and projector replacements and $3,000 for office computers.
Outplacement costs have been rising in the past 10 years or so, both at the state and at the national level, Gilbert said, calling it “a growing trend”. If, despite the district’s best effort to meet the needs of all students, it cannot provide for the education of a student, that student is placed in specialized schools where their needs can be met. Reasons can be behavioral, academic, or social-emotional, or a mix of those issues. In Woodbridge, there are a handful of such outplacements. The cost is projected to jump from $762,000 to $873,000, and reflects both a slight increase in kids serviced and a cost increase from the providers.
Salaries and benefits make up about half of the budget increase (43%), but constitute 77% of the total budget. Out-of district tuition causes about a third of the increase (31%), but makes up only 4.2% of the budget; the computers represent 15% of the increase, but are part of the furniture and equipment line item, which makes up less than 1% of the total budget. The rest of the increases are caused by utility increases, professional services, and miscellaneous others.
Board of Education members congratulated the superintendent on his budget presentation. Some wondered if the district should plan for an additional classroom given projected enrollment increases. In the end the board voted unanimously to keep current staffing, as the superintendent felt confident it would work out for the upcoming year.
As for the total increase as presented, there are obvious reasons and a rationale for that, said board member Nancy Maasbach. Board Chairman Margaret Hamilton pointed to the “Return on investment,” which lists the district’s achievements that were funded by the taxpayers.
Those include recent state-wide assessment results, such as the science Connecticut Mastery Test, where the local fifth graders placed first in the state. Beecher Road School students also placed in the top 10% in language arts and math assessments. The use of technology is an important 21st century learning tool and teaches students to use it responsibly and creatively. Gilbert also praised the music and art programs at the school. Overall, many of the school’s programs have attracted attention, both from within the state and the nation. For example, the New Hampshire State Department of Education selected the local Multi Age Program as one of two sites in the nation for further study and professional learning.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent