BOE kicks off school year with blow to budget

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By Kim Becker
The Granby Board of Education faces a $115,000 reduction in Open Choice funding from the state as its budget woes continue to trickle down to the local level. Once thought an untouchable funding source, the administration received word in mid-September that state cuts would immediately impact funds earmarked for students from Hartford. This funding is put into Granby’s Quality and Diversity budget, which funds initiatives such as full-day kindergarten and summer school. The board will make up the shortfall with funds from the operating budget.
However, the surprise funding cut may impact popular programs such as the summer drama camp run by Hartford Stage. The Granby Education Foundation has funded the program for three years. However, GEF’s mandate is to provide the seed money for innovative programming, not long-term funding. The board had been prepared to fund the drama camp out of Q and D money. The state cut may necessitate a reordering of program priorities.
FY 2015-16 budget
However, not all was gloomy on the budget front. The BOE had a $552,000 surplus from FY 2015-16, that allowed it to authorize completion of several projects from the “needs list.” The board had authorized use of $350,000 to complete several projects throughout the district, including: replacement of self-closing security doors at the high school; repairing gym bleachers at the middle and high schools; installing a digital access control system in all schools and Central Services; installing shower partitions in locker rooms. At this point, the board intends to give $202,752 back to the town.
Before voting on the motion to transfer such a large amount back to the town, Steve Royer, a self-proclaimed “fiscal conservative,” pushed back on the board to complete all of the projects on the needs list and give the town a smaller amount (approximately $120,000). He stated that the “school system has been giving, giving, giving” and has infrastructure needs that should be fulfilled before transferring funds to the town. The board ultimately voted unanimously to transfer the full $202,752 to the town.
Responding to inquiry, Superintendent Alan Addley stated that the surplus was larger than anticipated by approximately $200,000. After the $350,000 authorization, he didn’t feel compelled to recommend additional spending. “It is also true, moving forward, the district has needs that need to be addressed and it will be important that the town appropriates adequate funding for the school system in order to remain attractive to families and help maintain property values.”
In a related conversation, Addley reminded the board that the high school phone system has been in need of an overhaul for many years. It “went on the fritz” before school opened and was patched back together. However, the current fix will not hold much longer. Addley asked that the $130,000 for a new system be put into the small capital budget for FY 2017-18 and be seriously considered for completion next year.
High School Courses
Danielle Sandridge spoke during public comment on the need for three high school courses: junior year honors English; computer coding; and world language labs. Currently, juniors only have AP and academic English class choices. Without an honors-level option, they are forced into AP English classes when they may already have AP courses in math and science. Taking academic English is a poor choice for these students as colleges expect to see progression and rigor in course selections. Also, an honors selection allows academic students an opportunity for more challenging coursework as well.
Sandridge made the case for developing a coding class as well. Current computer course selections concentrate on using software packages like Microsoft Office rather than learning to write code. She contends that a coding class would better prepare students for college and career and cites GE as an example. That company recently announced that it would only hire people with coding experience from engineers to secretaries because they “…believe that understanding the elementary basics of coding unlocks the creativity to envision future products and solutions.”
As a leader in the World Language movement in Granby, Sandridge also reminded the board that a mobile language lab pilot is scheduled for this year, and asked that they fully fund the program for next year. She stated that simply having language classes that rely on written work is not enough. Using the Chromebooks to create opportunities for verbal homework and practice would allow students to master the language they choose to study.
Addley announced that enrollment for the 2016-17 school year is 10 students over projections district-wide, with five fewer students than projected at the primary level. Projections were mostly on target for other student categories such as Open Choice and magnet schools. Additionally, the district added 12 new staff members.
SBAC testing
Addley also announced that SBAC scores from across the district are “up a little bit” in math and ELA saw a 6.8 percent increase. The science CMT scores for grades 5, 8 and 10 rank Granby as second in our DRG.