Saturday, July 20, 2024

The Real Facts About the BOE Budget

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Contributions by Stratford Crier Staff

The recently passed Board of Education (BOE) budget has significantly changed our education system, affecting programs, staffing, and student services. One of the most notable changes is the elimination of the Alpha Program. After over 30 years of providing an alternative pathway for students with challenges to complete or recover credits needed for graduation, the Alpha Program has been discontinued. It’s important to note that Alpha is not being called by a new name or being replaced. Although AIP is being introduced, it does not meet the needs of the students who were part of the Alpha Program. AIP is also funded through the Federal Grant Project Uplift.

Library services across our schools have also been drastically affected. Both high schools will no longer have librarians, mirroring the previous budget-driven reductions at the middle school level. The situation is similarly bleak in elementary schools, with only four librarians now shared among eight schools. These librarian positions are funded by a $2 million allocation, which is not guaranteed for the next year, putting their future at risk.

Significant changes have also been made to reading and math support services. Reading and Math Coaches are now called interventionists, with some positions funded through the Alliance and Title One grants. Only one interventionist has been added to the Operating Budget, while two are funded by the $2 million allocation. Despite these adjustments, there has been an overall reduction in the number of service providers compared to previous years, impacting the level of support available to students.

Administrative positions have not been spared from the budget cuts. Both Lordship and Franklin Schools will no longer have an Assistant Principal, consolidating administrative responsibilities and potentially impacting the efficiency of school operations. There have been changes to the leadership structure in STEM subjects at the high school level. Separate department heads for science and math have been merged into one STEM department head per high school, which is responsible for both subject areas. This consolidation reduces specialized leadership and may affect the quality of education in these critical subjects.

The impact on teaching staff has also been significant. Thirty-one non-renewals have been issued to non-tenured teachers, indicating a notable reduction in the workforce and raising concerns about class sizes and the quality of education. These reductions reflect the challenging financial landscape and the difficult decisions to balance educational needs with available resources.

The $2 million “gift” received this year has provided much-needed temporary relief but creates a looming fiscal cliff for the next fiscal year. Each year, the BOE will need an increase because, just like for all of us, the cost of everything has increased, but they also have contractual obligations to fulfill. It is impossible even to maintain the status quo at the same amount. Without securing a similar one-time infusion next year, the BOE will face the same financial shortfalls and need to make additional cuts, further diminishing opportunities for this town’s children and affecting our community’s future.

It is also important for the community to stay informed about the Mayor’s and Town Council’s roles in the budgeting process. While the BOE decides how the money is allocated within the education system, the Mayor and, ultimately, the Town Council determine the total funding the BOE receives. Understanding their decisions and actions is crucial for anyone concerned about the future of our schools.

The BOE budget adjustments highlight the broad impact of these budgetary constraints. The elimination of the Alpha Program, reduction in library services, changes in reading and math support, and administrative restructuring underscore the extent of the changes affecting our schools. As the community navigates these changes, it is not just crucial to stay informed and engaged with both BOE members and the local government officials responsible for budget allocations, but it’s also our responsibility and accountability to ensure the best possible outcomes for our students and schools.

3 COMMENTS

  1. This certainly is very disturbing news, and the elimination of vitally important services makes Stratford an undesirable community for families with children. In addition, teachers and administrators will certainly choose other towns in which to work that don’t have the insecurity and increasingly negative working conditions existing in Stratford. Like the mighty Casey, Stratford has struck out. 😪

  2. Thank you, Crier, for summarizing the BOE meeting and its outcome. I hope many will read your article in order to stay up to date on the state of education here in Stratford. It will be interesting to see what happens with town-wide standardized tests compared to other area towns’ scores. It will be interesting to see what happens next year when some of these Allocations are gone. Will that put Stratford farther behind? Will Stratford ever escape from the Alliance designation of underperforming school districts? I have my fingers crossed for a positive outcome. I bet Town and BOE leaders are doing the same.

    Greg Carleton

    • Regardless of the particulars of the budget a few generalizations in the Crier article, most people know that that quality of education in Stratford has suffered over the past 20 or so years and will leave some students not adequately prepared for entry into work or college. Of course, there are always students who will do well no matter the quality of the educational system, and we still have teachers who are dedicated and in the field because they believe that all children and teens can be successful and love to be educators. Sadly, though, some educators really would retire or go to a more “supported” if you will, town tomorrow if they would not lose seniority.
      The diversity of our town generationally, racially, educationally, financially is challenging, interesting, wonderful, and difficult to navigate. And the education system is a microcosm of our town and feels the full impact of the these differences on a daily basis.
      The teachers I have talked to don’t feel supported in enforcing the control of discipline, e g. cell phone use in the classrooms. I think the in class cell phone limit is a great initiative. The idea is ( or was) to keep cell phones, for the most part, put away in a cubby during class time unless the teacher is using them for class instruction. I was at a “back to school” night when the initiative was announced and I almost stood up to give a standing ovation.
      I was a bit surprised, but not shocked, when no one else seemed that enthused about it and a few parents asked “how am I supposed to get in touch with my child during school?”
      I’m 69 so 30+ years older than most parents in the school system but I am a grandparent of a student. I gave some thought to the lack of enthusiasm about cell phones being limited during class time. I guess the need for some parents to want to be able to be in touch constantly reflects a general sense of anxiety that people have developed in response to school shootings, pandemic, overall increase in anxiety in teens, add to it what you will. Our world is in a state of great change not seen since the industrial revolution. (Yes, we had a cultural revolution in the 60s and 70s revolving around civil/human rights that appears to be in need of a reboot.)
      Our ever expanding technologic revolution is fraught with double-edged swords as most of us who are a little bit older (maybe late 30s on up, or raised in environment where exposure/use is controlled) understand. But our current students are first generation users of technology and one can make the case that the use of technology in people who have grown up with it is having and will continue to have benefits and find solutions to some of the complex problems our world faces.
      In regard to all of this, we can only act within our own families. We can try to act locally, try to think globally, but this is bigger than all of us.
      Still, the glaring inequities in school funding and educational equity are important, and have not changed much since the lawsuit in the seventies in our own state that is known as Shef versus O’Neill. If any of you are not familiar I highly recommend that you Google the PBS documentary regarding that lawsuit that had some, but not as much as hoped, positive impact on children in the Hartford public school system.
      In my humble and non expert opinion , I think that we are in need of a similar type of lawsuit today to focus on the disparities in the funding system, the loopholes that more wealthy towns use to basically become their own private school systems disregarding state mandates by “giving up” some state and federal funding because essentially they can well fund their own school systems with their own taxes. These towns can pay teachers more, have more enrichment programs, smaller class sizes, more support staff etc…
      There are schools in New Haven who have not had a science teacher in the building for most of the year. Stratford is headed slowly in the same direction.
      This level of inequality is something all of us should be mightily concerned about.

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