Chopping away

The John Read Middle School Select Chorus was among the many cuts made to the 2018-19 Board of Education budget at its meeting Tuesday night, which ended after midnight.

The cuts are in response to the failure of the second town budget referendum on June 5. At that time, the proposed operating annual budget for fiscal year July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, was $49,368,104. This budget apparently failed by four votes: 1,188 no votes to 1,184 yes votes.

In a recount conducted last week, official results indicate the town budget failed by three votes.

The first town budget referendum, which took place May 8, failed by a much larger margin — 1,330-808.

The total proposed includes Redding’s share of the Region No. 9 budget, which is shared between Redding and Easton. Although it was close for Redding, the Region 9 budget passed at the June 5 referendum for both Easton and Redding. The Redding vote was 1,225-1,143 in favor of the budget, the Easton vote 466-193 in favor.

At Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, $40,000 was cut from the failed June 5 proposed budget of $14,738,761. This reflects a decrease of one-10th of one percent from the current year’s budget of $14,753,515. The new revised proposed budget is $14,698,761.

By the end of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, the Board of Education proposed a cut of $101,944 from its prior revised proposed budget of $21,231,623, which failed at the June 5 referendum. The new revised proposed Board of Education budget is 21,129,679, which is a 1.82% increase over the current year’s budget of $20,752,623.

Proposed Board of Education cuts

A total reduction of $101,944 was proposed from the current Board of Education budget.

The cuts included the elimination of Select Chorus and other special music programs at John Read Middle School, which would amount to almost $3,000.

According to John Read Principal Diane Martin, the basic, general music, which consists of band, strings and chorus, “which is scheduled in the school day, would still happen.”

Instead, cuts would be made to “the three ensembles that students audition for that meet before the school day —  those are the stipended positions,” Martin said. “These are Select Chorus, Jazz Band and Chamber Ensemble.”

Additional budget cuts include $70,000 from budgeted medical insurance contributions.

According to Superintendent of Schools Tom McMorran, the board originally included $2.3 million for the health insurance costs. The teachers and support staff also make contributions to their health insurance based on negotiated amounts in their contracts.

“The total amount built into the health insurance financing is based on recommendations made by the board’s insurance brokers,” he said.

“The bottom idea is to have sufficient funding to cover expenses for health insurance claims,” McMorran said. “This is always risk management. By making this additional reduction, the board is betting on the good health of its employees overall.”  

Additional proposed cuts include a a reduction to the prepaid retirement incentive, which would amount to $15,000.

According to McMorran, the Board of Education has offered an early retirement incentive to teachers “at the top of our pay scales who are within a few years of retirement as a means of helping them retire early.”

“As part of that incentive, the board agrees to pay a certain amount in exchange for the retirement. The teacher can then be replaced with a much less expensive and experienced new teacher thereby saving the district,” McMorran said. “In this case, a teacher who agreed to retire is due a payment of $15,000.”  

In addition, a fifth grade team leader intervention stipend, which is a reduction of almost $4,000, is also among the proposed reductions.

According to McMorran, each grade at the middle school is organized into teams of teachers “who all devote their year to that one grade level,” he said. “A team leader is one of those teachers, and he or she coordinates the work of the team. For this additional work team, leaders receive a modest stipend.”

“We had three 2-person teams this year but can go back to the prior model, which is one team leader,” Martin said.

Items that were considered for a reduction but were decided against include cutting elementary Spanish at Redding Elementary School, and reducing the frequency of the the John Read Middle School homework club and Redding Elementary School’s math and reading clubs.

“The John Read Homework Club is fairly well attended — roughly 20 kids a day. We run it every day,” McMorran said.

McMorran said the additional budget cuts will have a strong effect on the schools. “At this point, there is no good way to take cash out of the system. Every reduction is going to have an impact.”

Proposed Board of Selectmen cuts

A total amount of $90,000 in potential cuts were proposed in the Board of Selectmen’s budget.

Savings would include switching from the town’s current medical insurance carrier, Anthem, to ConnectiCare, which would result in a $50,000 reduction.

Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton said ConnectiCare is offering a significant savings and a good incentive.

“If there are providers that are not currently in ConnectiCare, they will cover those providers for a year while they try to convert those providers over to ConnectiCare,” she said.  

In addition, the Board of Selectmen anticipates $40,000 in savings by consolidating the land use coordinator role with the zoning and wetlands enforcement officer role.  

“Land Use Coordinator Jo-An Brooks announced her retirement, effective May 31, between the first and second referenda,” Selectman Michael Thompson said.

However, $50,000 was added to the town’s legal budget based upon increased expenses “relating to ongoing matters, and anticipated expenses related to appeals of property assessments,” according to Thompson.

Items that were considered in the reduction but ultimately decided against included reducing the town’s grant to the Mark Twain Library in half — from a 5% increase to a 2.5% increase — and reducing the town’s road repair budget.

Town treasurer Wes Higgins said the library provides services to the town “at about half the cost other towns are required to pay. I would strongly urge you to meet their requirement this year, it’s money very well spent.”

The Board of Finance is expected to meet Wednesday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m., to review the proposed revised budgets from both Boards and make a final proposed budget. This budget will be sent to the voters at the town’s third budget referendum, at a date not yet announced.

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