WBOE balances Beecher budget

WBOE balances Beecher budget
Beecher Road School budget number crunching

Cost savings and cuts combine to close gap with limited impact; having reconciled the past, school board looks to the future

By Sheila McCreven-Helfenbein, Correspondent
Orange Bulletin September 27, 2001 edition

The Woodbridge Board of Education (WBOE) met September 24th for their regular monthly meeting, the first since the new school year began. With all members present, the Board voted to bring their current operating budget fully in line with the reduced funding they received from the town in May 2001.

Originally, the WBOE requested an increase of 8.39% but were rebuffed by the Board of Finance (BOF) and Board of Selectmen (BOS), in the end receiving an increase of only 5.01% for a total operating budget of $8,573,495 for fiscal year 2001-02. This left a gap of $285,474 dollars in the Beecher budget as approved by the previous WBOE in the aftermath of town elections in May, but before new members were sworn-in July 1st. 

With its five new members on board, the WBOE voted on July 6th to eliminate $252,558 worth of expenses including some classroom supplies, partial support for music and art programs, and some technology funding. However the bulk of the savings ($164,502) came from personnel costs when teachers retired or resigned at the end of the school year and over the summer. The teachers who were hired to replace those leaving cost the district less, both in terms of salaries and insurance benefits. 

9-27-2001 newspaper
The 9-27-2001 edition of the Orange Bulletin

The Board was able to close the budget gap completely with their vote Monday night to adjust line items to reflect further savings from personnel adjustments that came after their July meeting, deferment of certain building improvements, and some cost savings for transportation realized both as a result of the BOWA districts' new regional busing scheme and fewer students being transported to the Wintergreen magnet school in Hamden.

Additionally, the Board was able to realize enough savings in the process to convert a part-time secretarial position, reduced in the July vote, back to full-time, and to reinstate funding for a Special Education resource aide. Special Education needs are mandated costs that could have prompted the Board to return to the town for additional, extra-budgetary funds, but with Monday's vote the Board will avoid that request and absorb the new costs from their own budget.

Plans for new instruction method introduced
Formulation of next year's operating budget is now underway and the Board received a presentation from its Curriculum Coordinator Carol Bequary, who was promoted from within to fill this newly created post last March. 

Bequary relayed the details of a planned initiative to focus teaching at Beecher further along the path of Resource Based Learning (RBL) the district chose in 1997. Bequary announced that the next step in this evolution will be to introduce differentiated instruction to all 959 students at the elementary school. 

Likened to the old-fashioned "one-room school house" approach, differentiated instruction seeks to tailor the learning experience to the individual student while keeping that student in a classroom full of peers. Unlike some talented and gifted programs that pull children out of their regular classroom for special instruction, differentiated instruction would expand the current curriculum to fit each student's needs. It will take into account the theories of multiple intelligences and utilize many of the RBL instruction delivery methods already in place at Beecher. 

In her presentation, Bequary said Beecher is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this new trend in instruction that is being embraced by many CT schools, in light of its previous experience with RBL. She set out a three-year plan to reach these goals and reported to the Board that as the coming year's budget is formulated she will recommend expenditures to cover teacher training and technology enhancement to meet the goals of differentiated instruction.

Budget meetings set
Among other topics, the Board also covered meeting schedules for the year and set various dates for key budget development phases. As usual, the WBOE will begin to put together its budget in October. They will meet in a joint session with the town's BOF and BOS to begin preliminary budget talks on Wednesday, October 3rd. Final operating budget submissions from all town departments are due by late January.

It was announced that the WBOE Finance Committee will meet on the second Thursday of each month during this school year at 6:00 PM in Beecher Road School. Their next meeting will be October 18th.

It was also revealed Monday that the WBOE's Finance Committee's primary focus will be to plan, oversee and communicate relevant budget information to the full Board. One secondary focus of the Finance Committee will be to provide a forum for the public regarding Beecher budget matters.

Reportedly, another secondary focus of this group will be to benchmark the school's financial resources and budget against "comparable appropriations in the budgets of similar districts and/or schools."

Finance Committee Chair Jamie Lecker voiced his desire to evaluate the Beecher budget in this way so as to make an increasingly convincing case for the school budget to the BOS and BOF, as well as taxpayers in general.