The Barrington Appropriations Committee had a few questions for the Barrington School Committee Thursday night though the discussion focused more on long-term issues than the proposed $46.128 million school district budget.
Appropriations member Joel Hellmann wanted to know if district leaders plan to lower personnel numbers as student enrollment figures drop. Mr. Hellmann said the district lost 100 students over the last two years and teacher numbers are flat. He also said the district is on track to lose several hundred more students over the next decade.
“If we’ve got a smaller population we should have an idea of how many teachers we need,” Mr. Hellmann said.
Superintendent Michael Messore said the current budget calls for the elimination of one full-time teacher position at the elementary level. Director of Administration Ron Tarro said the situation is a bit different looking at a longer period of time. He said teacher numbers are down by about 15 since 2008, as are total personnel numbers.
Appropriations chairwoman Kathryn Cadigan said district officials should look at the optimization versus maintenance of programs and, if possible, leverage technology to help keep costs down.
Appropriations member Rosetta Narvaez asked if the budget should include funds for all-day kindergarten. The budget contains about $141,000 for an all-day kindergarten program. The placeholder accounts for additional classroom space and potentially 2.5 additional full-time employees but the $141,000 is substantially lower than previous estimates.
Ms. Narvaez said Barrington is an affluent community and many parents are able to place their children in programs that help supplement half-day kindergarten.
Mr. Messore said a full-day program is important. New common core standards have changed the kindergarten curriculum, Mr. Messore said, and additional time can have a positive impact on social development.
Director of curriculum and instruction Paula Dillon said common core is already in place in kindergarten where teachers are reporting a half-day of class time isn’t enough.
School committee member Scott Fuller said research is “fairly certain” that full-day kindergarten is beneficial for students.
A sub-committee will study the potential program in coming weeks to determine if it can be implemented next year or somewhere else down the road.
Ms. Narvaez questioned if the committee will be objective in examining cost versus benefit. Mr. Fuller said he doesn’t think there is much room for debate on the program’s educational advantages but he’s open to discussion.
Mr. Messore said overall, the school district is working under a new administration and it is going to take some time for the group to look educational programs across the district and propose changes.
School committee member Kate Brody said the district is more data driven than ever and this new information helps take the emotion out of program decisions.
“We are not shooting from the hip,” Ms. Brody said.
On Friday, Ms. Cadigan said she was encouraged by Thursday’s discussion.
Appropriations’ formal response to the schools’ budget proposal, however, could be weeks away. The school district is still negotiating a new agreement with local teachers meaning the largest portion of the budget is still subject to change.
“It’s very frustrating the budget is behind schedule but it is what it is and we are very sensitive to how important it is not to say or do anything that will hinder the contract negotiations or put them on a track to come out in a less favorable way,” Ms. Cadigan said.
“We’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”
Ms. Cadigan said that if a contract is not finalized within the next two weeks, Appropriations will likely settle upon its schools’ proposal in early April followed by a subsequent joint meeting with the school committee.