School board trims budget request

Trumbull’s Board of Education trimmed $686,000 from school Superintendent Gary Cialfi’s $105.3-million budget proposal for next year in a special meeting Wednesday. The revised budget represents a 4.23% increase over the current year.

The item that drew the greatest discussion followed a motion by board member Jeffrey D’Onofrio seeking a $611,000 cut from the special education budgets for this year and next. Trumbull is owed this amount under a statute that requires the state Board of Education to offset certain costs borne by local districts in the delivery of specified and mandated services to such students.

D’Onofrio expressed “concern over the state’s financial health,” and so felt it prudent to assume the worst case. His message was that the town must simply cut its special ed budget to minimize the board’s potential exposure.

In response, Assistant Superintendent Mike McGrath stated that “the state will fund,” but added, “we will do our very best to provide our essential services with the smaller budget.”

Later research indicated that the funds originate with the federal government, and are passed through to the district upon receipt of essential documentation.

After a short discussion the motion was approved.

Cialfi then began his presentation, stating that the budget remains dominated by salaries and benefits, which account for 82.3% of the total request. Fixed costs account for 11.2%, with only 6.5% as “discretionary” — though these funds are all earmarked for essential items, including student computers, textbooks and classroom supplies.

The elementary schools budget was the next to draw discussion, over a request for six additional teachers — four new hires and two transfers, one from each middle school.

The only other cut was made in the elementary schools budget. While enrollment is projected to remain essentially flat, assuring that all classrooms remain within “class size guidelines” requires the addition of six teachers. Cialfi requested four new hires and, given the projection of 72 fewer middle school students, the transfer of two teachers from those schools.

Board member Jackie Norcel motioned to transfer the existing teachers and hire only three teachers. The motion carried and reduced the request by $75,000.

No other changes were made to Cialfi’s recommendations for the middle schools.

Trumbull High School sought four and one-half additional teachers. Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessments Jonathan Budd reviewed an earlier presentation whose highlights included that every student takes English every semester, resulting now in 31 sections with more than 25 students. He sought one of the teachers for that department.

He sought an additional teacher for math, an increasingly important area as STEM grows in importance, along with a wellness teacher who would help ninth graders get adjusted to high school in an increasingly complex and demanding world in which poor decisions can have major implications.

He also asked for a half-time teacher to assist students in preparing for the SAT exams, another increasingly important topic, he said.

Board member Lucinda Timpanelli supported the request, asking the board “to leave these as they are.” The board did so.

The only other change presented was reinstating the pay-to-participate program that was targeted for termination in the upcoming year. Board members commented that a better state budget environment could mean an end to the program next year.

Cialfi offered a short list of the district’s areas of excellence, telling the board that Trumbull schools perform better on standardized tests than most in the same District Reference Group — 21 districts around the state with comparable demographics and resources. Trumbull spends less per pupil than most, Cialfi said, but it has among the greatest number of Advanced Placement courses, and it is seeing a marked increases in the number of THS students accepted to the more competitive colleges.