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The Board of Education Budget: Addressing FAQs

As the Board of Education (BOE) budget season kicks into gear, it's natural for community members to have questions and concerns about where their tax dollars are going and why certain decisions are being made. We understand the importance of transparency and clarity, so let's address some of the frequently asked questions surrounding the BOE budget. As a sitting BOE member I will do my best to provide my perspective here and clarification.  As always, this is based on my own understanding and opinions.  I don't speak on behalf of the BOE.


Chairs around a table
Positions are like chairs at a table. Removing 3 would leave the BOE with fewer chairs.

 

1. Why did the BOE hire staff using Covid grant money?

 

The decision to hire staff using Covid grant money was driven by the profound impact that the pandemic had on learning. We're all familiar with the term "Covid Learning Gap," which refers to the disparities in educational achievement exacerbated by the pandemic. While we made progress in closing this gap last year, its effects continue to linger and will likely persist for years to come. By using Covid grant funds to hire staff, we provided additional support to students who were most affected by the disruptions to their education.  In my opinion, our staff (teachers, paras, mental health services) has the most direct impact on student learning and without them, our kiddos would be at a significant disadvantage.


Back in 2021 the district sent out a survey asking the public how the Covid funds should be spent. About 900 people responded and 93% said they would like smaller class sizes.

 

2. Why is the Board of Education Budget asking for so much money when there are healthy surpluses for health insurance?

 

It's essential to distinguish between a health insurance reserve and a surplus. The BOE maintains a health insurance reserve (just over $1M) to cover anticipated healthcare costs for our employees. Actuaries use this reserve, along with projected claims, to estimate upcoming fiscal year expenses. Unfortunately the town side of the budget doesn't have reserves after the prior years spending and is seeing a 26% increase year over year in this budget line item, the BOE's reserve helped limit our health insurance increase to just 10% year over year. This increase is particularly crucial given the "post-pandemic catchup" trend in healthcare utilization, which is contributing to rising costs nationwide.


North Haven is self-funded from an insurance perspective so this is one area in which we need to take extra caution. We aren't cost-sharing with all of Aetna or Blue Cross, we are cost sharing with a smaller subset (ACES Collaborative) which can have big cost saving benefits, but can also be risky. It is wise to have a healthy, actuary-recommended, reserve balance.

 

I am not sure about the math some folks are throwing out there about projections to end with a larger surplus.  I haven't seen the math, but it didn't seem as though standard seasonality in things like payroll and insurance were accounted for.  Happy to dive in deeper here if folks are interested.



Complicated math
Did you know that the BOE has higher expenditures in the last 2 months of the year? This is both due to summertime payroll and processing high priority capital items during times when students won't be present.

 

3. Why is the BOE trying to hire three additional positions this year?

 

To clarify, there are two new positions in the BOE budget, not three. These positions are carefully considered to address specific equity needs within our schools:

 

  • The addition of a school psychologist at Montowese Elementary School aims to support the growing student service hour needs within our Therapeutic Learning Service Program. With another psychologist on board, our current staff can focus on providing essential services at the middle and high school levels, while the new hire will serve students at Montowese.

  • The proposal to add a special education teacher at Ridge Road Elementary aims to better meet required special education hours at one of our most densely populated K-5 schools. This addition will alleviate high caseloads for current special education teachers and provide more direct support instruction for our students.

 

Positions are like chairs around a table.  The BOE is asking for 2 new chairs for the 2024-2025 year (school psychologist at Montowese, and Special Ed teacher at Ridge Road).  A Board of Finance (BOF) member continues to argue that the Middle School Assistant Principal is an unbudgeted, new position.  The issue is, there is already a seat at the table for this position.  It was previously called the Dean of Students. I would call this a position change, not an addition.  Removing these 3 positions would leave the district with 1 fewer seat at the table than we currently have. 


4. Why does the Board of Education budget keep increasing?


Educational costs are shifting with the sands of inflation just like grocery bills are. In addition to requiring resources for addressing the lingering covid learning gap, we also are subject to higher energy costs, supply costs, etc. I took a look at the annual budgets in accordance with the inflation pulling from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. I started in 2016 and went through 2022 to get a good sample. The Board of Education budget requested for this year is less than any year in the 2016-2022 sample when adjusted for inflation. The range is pretty broad (1% under to 6% under) but the average is 3%. That means North Haven Schools are working with an average of 3% fewer dollars than we have been for the past decade. How are we doing this? I have seen the district plan thoughtfully around how to spend resources and make the most with what we have. I am not at all confident that we can continue to lean on our educators and staff in the way we have been previously.

 

Lets wrap up:

As community members, you're encouraged to engage with the budget process and vote based on informed decisions. My goal is to provide accurate information and transparency to ensure that the best interests of our students and community are served. I certainly have a perspective here, and reasonable people can disagree. If you have any questions or feel as though anything here is misstated, please don't hesitate to reach out directly. Together, we can work towards a brighter future for our schools and our community.


What other questions do you have? How can I help?

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Thank you for writing this! As a parent, I remember receiving the survey about how to use Covid funds. My response to that survey indicated that smaller class sizes were my top priority, and the community agreed with me. I am glad the district valued the input of parents enough to ask, and then used that feedback when making decisions. 


I am also happy to see you are trying to clear up the confusion surrounding the "new position" some are claiming is being requested. This position is not new. There have always been 2 assistant principals at the middle school. When a vacancy occurred on that admin team, a teacher was appointed in the interim to fill the position. But…


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