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School Consolidation Floated As Way Of Reducing Budget

New London superintendent says difficult decisions will be necessary to make up an estimated $4 million deficit in 2013 fiscal year

School administrators are proposing at least one year of consolidating the student populations at two elementary schools to help reduce the impact if the schools' budget is flat-funded for 2013.

Superintendent Nicholas Fischer and Assistant Superintendent Christine Carver spoke about the plan with the Board of Education on Thursday. The change would involve combining the student populations of the Harbor School and Nathan Hale School. The latter students are currently in modular classrooms on Cedar Grove Ave. while the school building on Beech Drive is renovated for use as an arts magnet school. This magnet school is expected to open for the 2013-2014 school year.

According to a memo from Carver and Maria Whalen, director of business and finance for New London Public Schools, Harbor School has a capacity of 465 students while the modular classrooms have a capacity of 350 students. The combined population of the two schools is about 600, Carver said, but it is expected that at least 135 students from the school will join the Winthrop School, which will become a magnet school for science, technology, mathematics, and engineering in the next school year.

Carver and Whalen project that the consolidation would result in $577,617 in staff and utility savings. The majority of this amount would result from one principal moving into a Winthrop School dean’s position created in the new budget, thereby eliminating one principal’s salary. Similar transfers of a custodian, secretary, and literacy coach (who would be swapped as a science coach) to positions budgeted for in the Winthrop School would further eliminate now-vacant positions that were also budgeted for. One teacher would be laid off as a result of the consolidation.

The plan also calls for further savings to the city of New London municipal budget as a result of the consolidation. This budget currently includes a $39,000 monthly lease for the modular classrooms, and the savings on about a year’s lease would be $468,000. There would also be projected in-kind savings from the reduction of maintenance, garbage removal, and other costs currently associated with the modular site.

The figures do not currently include the approximately $82,000 moving costs estimated in the move as well as an anticipated 12 percent penalty for early termination of the modular lease. Carver said the change is not anticipated to have any additional effect on the cost of busing students, although that cost is anticipated to increase based on the price of fuel.

Board concerns

Superintendent Nicholas Fischer said it is unclear what the 2013 fiscal year budget will be, given uncertainties regarding the extent of both city and state funding. He said the consolidation is one option for the board to consider, and that the principals at the district’s schools have also been asked to find 10 percent reductions in their individual budgets.

Approximately $4 million will be needed to maintain current services in the 2013 fiscal year budget; this represents approximately roughly 10 percent of the approved 2012 fiscal year budget of $39,817,405. Fischer said budget reductions in the event of flat-funding would likely include personnel, since staffing is the main part of the district’s expenditures.

“This is the start of a very, very difficult series of decisions we’re going to have to make,” said Fischer.

Board member Barbara Major said she would prefer consolidation to losing staff, but worried about the effect of another student relocation.

“I guess my concern is the same as everyone else: it’s the kids,” she said. “And I know Harbor’s not in the best of shape.”

Secretary Jason Catala said he was also concerned with the condition of the Harbor School building. He said he hopes the deficit will have minimal impact on the teaching staff.

“I’d prefer to cut an administrator in Central Office before we cut a teacher’s assistant or teacher,” he said.

Major said other options include combining the financial departments of the city and school district and asking staff to forfeit raises that were contractually approved for the 2013 budget.

“I think teachers would rather give up their raises than their jobs,” she said.

Fischer said cutting the raises would save the district about $400,000. He said the district has also met with municipal officials on the consolidation of financial services and that the city will make an estimate on the projected fiscal impact of such a move.

The Board of Education will hold a public hearing to hear residents’ input at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the . This hearing will precede the at 7 p.m.

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Clarification: The school district is not running a $4 million deficit. This represents an anticipated cost increase to maintain current services in the 2013 fiscal year budget, and schools have been asked to find reductions to save this amount in the event of flat-funding by the city.

Inside Man February 08, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Billie, I call it like I see it, and again you are lying. You said and I quote "How much money did the last council budget for snow removal or salt for this winter ? " and the fact is that the last Council did budget for snow removal and the previous finance director and/or city manager moved those monies around to fill gaps and overspenditures. Don't blame the council for acts that they had no knowledge of! Secondly, the previous council did NOT allow $500/mo for the Mayor's car allowance. There was a car allowance for the City Manager and the personnel director told the mayor that he was entitled to that NOT THE COUNCIL! You want to blame everything that is wrong with this city on the previous council? Let your buddy Mayor Fizzing Out take the blame for what he is doing wrong and stop blaming other people. Frankly it is getting old!
Lori Hopkins Cavanagh February 08, 2012 at 08:28 PM
John, you are absolutely right. Unfortunately, the city's tax payers must suffer for Finizio to pay off his political debts.
Lori Hopkins Cavanagh February 08, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Ken: What are parents going to do with their kids on the fifth day? I am fortunate to be able to set my own hours, most parents are not so fortunate.
Lori Hopkins Cavanagh February 08, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Felicia, we would be better off letting Daryl take the next 3.75 years off. Maybe the city can negotiate a really strong early retirement for him.
Ken February 08, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Lori: Read the article and find out how that has been handled. Apparently, it has been less of a problem than anticipated.

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