Trumbull school board restores some teachers, brings back TAG
TRUMBULL — Interim School Supt. Ralph Iassogna couldn’t suppress a smile as he delivered the latest budget report to the Board of Education earlier this week.
It wasn’t because he loved the budget — he was clear that he didn’t. Rather, it was because the schools are finally “coming to the end of a long and arduous road” in a process that began five months ago with a projected shortfall and had continued through a global pandemic that closed all school buildings three months ago.
“We’ve come a long way in the past five or six months,” he said. “And now we’re moving forward to 2021.”
The board ultimately voted June 9 to accept Iassogna’s recommendations, although board members and school administrators agreed that the budget was still subject to change based on enrollment and possible health mandates in the fall.
“This is not going to be perfect, we understand that,” Iassogna said. “I’d be lying if I said to you, ‘We love this budget.’ We don’t. We may like it, but it doesn’t meet the needs that we want it to meet. But again, we have to work with the allocation given to us.”
Last month, the Town Council approved a $109 million budget allocation for the school system, about $2 million less than the $110.9 million the school board had requested back in February. But the schools also received $276,000 from a reworked lease arrangement and a $750,000 refund from Durham School Services, the town’s school bus provider.
“That was a very difficult, but firm negotiation,” Iassogna said.
The combined totals left the schools with $110.05 million to put toward next year, but still required about $1 million in cuts from the original proposal.
To close the gap, Iassogna recommended a series of reductions. The cuts had been detailed in previous meetings, but the latest list included some restorations that board members were seeing for the first time.
Among the restorations are a pre-kindergarten teacher, five elementary teachers, a French teacher, a special education/academically gifted teacher and 13 kindergarten paraprofessionals. Some 11.6 certified teaching positions and numerous paraprofessional and custodial positions remain unbudgeted, and those staff members likely will either move on or retire, Iassogna said.
On the positive side, Assistant Superintendent Jonathan Budd reported that kindergarten enrollment is running below projections, with three of the town’s schools seeing reductions in their incoming kindergarten students from the current year, and the other three holding steady.
In addition to the staff reductions, Iassogna also recommended cutting $80,000 from the account that covers magnet school tuition, reducing sports coaches’ salaries 10 percent across the board, eliminating clubs and activities with low participation and closing the elementary schools at 4:30 p.m.
Although the board ended up accepting Iassogna’s recommendations unanimously, members debated whether to put off final approval. Member Scot Kerr noted that many aspects are still up in the air and wondered whether a delay would give members a better idea of the situation.
“I think we need to see the final picture with everything in it,” he said.
But delaying a vote would put some people in a tough spot, said board member Jackie Norcel.
“We have staff waiting to see if they are going to have jobs,” she said. “We owe it to them to let them know.”
Budd agreed, saying the board had “an ethical obligation to finalize” the cut list.
“There are people on the non-renew list that are finalists for jobs in other districts,” he said. With their job situation in Trumbull uncertain, those staffers likely would take an offer to leave, he said.
Member Kathleen Fearon suggested the board look at additional ways to raise revenue rather than additional items to cut. She suggested parking fees at the high school.
“We pay to bus every student to school,” she said. “It feels like we’re paying twice if we then provide parking to students who drive.”
Iassogna said instituting parking fees was easy to do, but cautioned that it may not generate as much revenue as members expected because of the cost of enforcement.
“Someone is in my spot. Who enforces it? Do we tow?” he said.
On a separate revenue topic, Norcel announced her opposition to increases in pay-to-participate fees. Iassogna did not recommend such fees, but had offered them as an option.
“This is a tough year to increase pay-to-participate,” Norcel said. “Asking people to pay more money? I think that’s terrible.”