Trumbull school budget: Freshman sports, kindergarten helpers could return

TRUMBULL — Freshman sports, kindergarten paraprofessionals and a handful of teaching positions could be back in Trumbull schools after the Town Council added $226,000 back into its budget for schools and found other cost-saving revenues.

But other programs — the talented and gifted programs and math specialists in particular — may be gone for good because there isn’t enough money to pay for them.

Interim Supt. Ralph Iassogna this week recommended the Board of Education restore some of the positions and programs cut to balance a budget that had been reduced because of the pandemic and said he hoped more programs could be funded as the district continued to identify more cost savings and additional revenues.

After several board members expressed concern about the omission of gifted classes and math specialists, he said the restorations — presented as a first draft — could change significantly before being finalized in June.

“We’re trying to find that balance,” Iassogna said.

The school board had initially requested a $110.9 million for its 2020-21 budget. Last week, the Town Council approved a $109 million allocation, but the schools also learned there was additional money coming their way in the form of $270,000 in savings from converting from leasing boilers to paying for them through a town bond. An insurance rate hike of 5 percent, below the expected 6.5 percent, saved another $213,000, Iassogna said. The federal CARES Act will also mean about $100,000 in funds for the town’s schools, he said.

Still, Iassogna said, the board will have to make about $1.3 million in cuts to get from its request to its final allocation. The good news, he said, is that the situation is better than it looked in March.

“Looking at the positive, we can restore $1.06 million,” he said.

Iassogna’s recommended restorations included freshman sports, a college transition counselor, a social worker, a world language teacher, the summer facilities internship program, 26 kindergarten paraprofessionals, a part-time custodian, one unspecified teacher, a part-time science teacher, a business teacher, a middle school and a high school math interventionist and two elementary literary consultants. The restorations total $1.02 million.

Money for online subscriptions, curriculum writing and additional teacher time will also absorb some of the restored funding. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the distance learning it has forced on the schools, made the items mandatory, he said.

“These have to be done no matter what,” he said.

While Iassogna’s presentation pleased some of the parents and staff members who had spoken before the meeting in support of things like freshman sports and paraprofessionals, board members were measured in their response.

Michael Ward questioned whether the restorations were presented in any order. Specifically, he wondered if it represented Iassogna’s priorities.

Iassogna confirmed there was no priority implied by the list order, “mainly because the past has shown that each board member has different priorities,” he said.

Marie Petitti, wanted to see the TAG (Trumbull’s Academically Gifted) program restored.

“I was very upset not to see TAG,” she said.

While the school system traditionally deployed more resources to help struggling students, Petitti said the schools had an obligation to educate all students to their full potential.

In addition, the $160,000 earmarked for rehiring kindergarten paraprofessionals might be better spent on other staff, she said.

“If we have the money, I’m the first person to say keep the kindergarten paras,” she said. “I’d rather see tech people, reading and math specialists.”

Board Chairman Lucinda Timpanelli questioned the decision to bring back elementary literacy specialists over their math counterparts.

“We need to put them back. That’s a direct impact on students,” she said. “I’m kind of surprised (the administration) doesn’t think they’re equally important.”

Timpanelli agreed, pointing out that feedback from parents and students indicated that math was the most difficult subject to learn under distance learning conditions.

Assistant Supt. Jonathan Budd replied that the literacy specialists operated under state mandates that do not exist for math.

“They are not equivalent in their eyes,” he said.

The board ended the discussion with a request that Iassogna and Budd create a list of the impact that each potential restoration would have on the 29 teachers that had received pink slips. The board could vote on the final restoration list as early as its June 9 meeting, although Jackie Norcel thought that date was too early since the schools still do not know how much it will cost to get ready to open in September.

“I’m afraid to vote on June 9,” she said.

The CDC has compiled a list of reopening guidelines, including a recommendation to replace classroom furniture that placed students into close contact.

“We have a lot of classrooms,” she said.