Lower than expected health insurance costs allowed school administrators to drop a requested budget hike without touching any other proposed staff or programming costs.
The Board of Education voted at its Feb. 13 meeting to approve the administration’s 2013-14 proposed budget — $15,448,093, or a 1.36% increase, over last year’s figure. The education budget will be presented to the Board of Finance on March 6.
“The reduction materialized subsequent to our meeting,” said Board of Education Chairman Alan Dunsby. “The major drop came in the health insurance costs. The initial numbers were higher than what we are expected to realize in Easton.”
The administration had originally proposed a $15,584,840 budget — a 2.29% hike, but even at that time school Director of Finance & Operations Peggy Sullivan stated that there was a good chance the health insurance number would be lowered.
Health insurance accounts were projected to increase by 9% in the original proposal, but Ms. Sullivan said that Easton’s “experience doesn’t mirror what is happening nationally. I’m getting updated numbers, and I’m thinking we can see a drop in that increase.”
The budget approved by the Board of Education has increased costs in health insurance; capital improvements; security enhancements; and unfunded mandates, even with projections showing declining enrollment — with the school population at Samuel Staples Elementary School and Helen Keller Middle School dropping from 1,021 to 962.
Capital improvements total $112,225, with exterior painting at the elementary school ($27,255); driveway and parking lot work ($15,000) and the phase 1 classroom window replacement ($50,000) at the middle school; and faculty bathroom upgrades ($20,000) planned. Security enhancements are projected at $78,100, but Ms. Sullivan said that this could be another area where savings could be found.
The other major budget driver, according to school administrators, is state-mandated reform related to professional development, all of which is unfunded, under the Educational Reform Act to be effective July 1.
Overall, the proposed 2013-14 budget calls for a reduction of 4.0 full-time equivalent staffers (FTE) in reaction to the enrollment decline. Staff reassignments will make accommodations for the change in the staffing model and “will allow the district to make great strides in preparing students for the 21st Century,” said Dr. Josefsberg.
Ms. Sullivan said that the budget proposal calls for reducing two classes at the elementary school and a general education classroom section at the middle school.
“We are reducing five general education individuals,” said Ms. Sullivan, “and we are asking that two of the five be reassigned to coaching and training other teachers.”
Ms. Sullivan said that the budget proposal calls for a .5 social worker at the elementary school and the addition of a media specialist at the middle school.
Overall, costs in the 2013-14 education budget associated with the mandated reform include $21,666 for professional evaluation classroom observation training; $27,220 for common core curriculum revision; and $19,300 for benchmark and state standardized testing.
At the middle school, school administrators propose math/ILA specialists (.8 FTE) and aide (one) positions designed to increase availability of the existing ILA specialist and math specialist to coach fellow teachers.
Since the 2008-09 school year, Easton schools enrollment has declined from 1,178 students to the current population of 1,021 students, a 13% decline. According to Dr. Peter Prowda’s projections, the enrollment decline will continue through the 2021-22 school year, when the numbers drop to 618 students. For the nearer term, Dr. Prowda predicts 741 students in 2017-18.
While the town needs to decide how to best house the declining school population in the years to come, administrators believe that in the meantime, meeting the state’s new mandates is the primary objective for administrators.