New students started a new school year yesterday in New London, many of them heading to brand new schools or schools reinvented with innovative approaches to education.
So what's new in the city's school district this year? New London School Superintendent Nicholas Fischer explains.
"There are several things that are new," Fischer says. "We opened up the new buildings for Nathan Hale, our visual and performing arts magnet school. We are doing program development and started with a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] program at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School.
"We have expanded learning time programs at the Winthrop Elementary Magnet school, which means we’ve expanded the length of the day to add enrichment activities to enhance student literacy and math skills. We're doing the same thing at the Jennings Elementary School.
"We have an increased number of students. We have 160 students who signed up from out of district to take part in our Winthrop magnet school and we have about 20 for Nathan Hale. (The reason that number is lower is we weren’t sure whether the building was going to be ready, so we had to start that program relatively late.)
"We are engaged in the District strategic operating plan, an overall plan that we’re using the guide all of our efforts, including student achievement, making the entire district into a magnet school district, improving parent involvement, and improving the district's financial picture."
The Financial Picture Remains Blurry
Because the City of New London still hasn't approved a budget, it's hard to get a clear picture of the school's financial situation at the moment. Last year's budget was $39,817,405. This year, the school asked for a one and a half percent increase, which amounts to an additional $596,000. Whether the school district will get that, however, is far from certain.
"We’re not sure," says Fischer. "There’s a possibility we may have to reduce the budget. The biggest problem is that if we do not get an increase, that will mean over the last 6 years we’ve had an 18 percent reduction in operating funds, because our costs go up by about 3 percent a year but our revenues stay flat."
To prepare for the worst, Fischer has asked every cost center, which would be a school, administration or a particular department such as maintenance, to come up with areas that could be cut just in case.
"We have to assume each may need to reduce," says Fischer. "The high school has about a $9 million operating budget, the middle school about $7 million."
New London's Magnet Schools Attract New Students and Funding
Money is one of the big reasons why New London is in the process of making every school in the district a magnet school. New London students always have the option to go to their neighborhood school, Fischer says, and students who live in the city have top priority when it comes to placement. But many of New London's schools are now open to students from throughout the region.
"We have students coming from North Stonington, Old Saybrook, we have about 60 some students coming from Groton into Winthrop Elementary School," says Fischer. "We’ve had the science/technology magnet high school going back to 2006 and, before the new building was built, that operated out of main high school building. We have been attracting magnet students ever since.
"The main reason for doing magnet programs is to improve the attractiveness of New London public schools and to improve the financial viability of the schools. The district will receive close to $9 million in new funds once the process is complete that we do not have access to now."
Nathan Hale and Winthrop became magnet schools for the first time this year, and the 6th grade at Bennie Dover is in the process of becoming a STEM school. Fischer says the goal is to make every school a magnet school by 2017.