The Newtown Board of Education spent much of its meeting on Nov. 20 looking for ways to save money in the 2013-14 school budget.
The next budget cycle is likely to be difficult, because the school budget will be bifurcated, voted on separately from the town budget, and there are few ideas for saving money that the board hasn’t already tried.
The board hasn’t given up on offering an early retirement for teachers, but so far the prospects that it might save any sizeable amount of money are looking slim.
Members of the board’s finance subcommittee met with Bill Sudol, a retired state Teachers Retirement Fund employee, who analyzed the board’s early retirement incentive offers and reported that they probably wouldn’t save much money.
The two alternatives floated earlier this Fall were to pay to continue retirees’ medical insurance or a cash offer known as the Ohio Plan, in which the board would help retirees buy additional years of pension eligibility. The aim is to replace teachers at the highest pay grade with younger teachers paid tens of thousands of dollars a year less.
According to subcommittee members Richard Gaines and William Hart, Sudol told them the problem is the incentives could cost almost as much as the savings from the retirements. In some cases, a saving of $30,000 for an individual retirement might be offset by an incentive costing $25,000.
Hart said he questioned whether a savings of just $5,000 per retirement was worth losing some of the most talented, veteran teachers in the district.
This and other difficult budget decisions are approaching a deadline, because the board must approve a 2013-14 budget request by the end of January. BOE Chairman Debbie Leidlein asked the subcommittee to keep trying and report back next month.
Academic Standards Come With Cost
School Supt. Dr. Janet Robinson reported that the state’s new academic standards and teacher evaluation procedures are unfunded mandates that could have expensive budget implications.
The core standards require additional teacher training on addressing dating violence among students, and the new evaluation process will require at least six classroom observations per teacher, she said.
Robinson said at a recent CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education) conference, educators and school board officials wondered where they would get the money for these things.
Funding a New Superintendent Search
In regard to the search for a new superintendent, school district Business Manager Ron Bienkowski said the headhunter firm that conducted the last superintendent search in 2007 estimated a new search would cost between $25,000 and $30,000.
That is much lower than Bienkowski’s original cost estimate of around $80,000, which he admitted was only included in his earlier budget report as a “place holder” until a more accurate estimate was received.
He said one factor, advertising costs, might be substantially less than in 2007, because now it would use more internet advertising, which is cheaper than print ads the 2007 search relied on.