2012-04-06 / Front Page

Filling a $3M chasm

Brunswick guidance overhaul proposed; tech costs questioned
BY DARREN FISHELL Times Record Staff

BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick School Department is considering cuts to its guidance counseling department as part of the answer to closing a nearly $3 million budget gap.

Declining enrollment is among the factors triggering reduced state and federal subsidies.

The move would eliminate the equivalent of one halftime employee at Brunswick Junior High School (BJHS) and Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary and would cut one full- time position at Brunswick High School, according to School Services Director Paul Austin.

Districtwide, Austin said the current ratio of counselors to students is 1-to-220, which falls in line with an American Association of School Counselors recommendation of a ratio in the range of 1-to-250.

With the staff reduction, the district’s ratio would be 1-to-270.

District 4 School Board member Corinne Perreault said she was “floored” by the suggestion, which would leave one counselor at Harriet Beecher Stowe School to serve approximately 650 students.

“That just seems extreme and I’m disappointed that’s even on there,” Perreault said during a budget forum Thursday night.

Austin said the allocation of counseling time among the schools was guided by need, with more counseling hours demanded at the junior high and high schools.

In the district’s incremental approach to crafting a final budget by the end of this month, officials also made recommendations Thursday on spending in special education, technology, attendance and social work, and health services.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said the school department is scheduled to complete its budget on April 25 and take a final version to the Town Council at a May 3 meeting.

Until the completion of budget workshops continuing through April 25, Perzanoski said he will not have an idea of the bottom line for the district, but that it could reflect an increased request of up to 9 percent — based on the nearly $3 million budget gap — in Brunswick’s local funding for education.

In some areas, such as special education and technology, school department staff is resisting overall cuts but is re-examining how those expenditures are made.

Special education

Austin presented to the board Thursday a plan to cut no special education staff as part of a recommended 11 percent decrease in local spending for special education.

The proposed budget decrease would bring special education funding from around $231,000 to around $204,000, in part by sorting out costs that, if paid with local funds instead of federal grant money, would be eligible for state reimbursement.

Austin said that the district receives around $600,000 in federal money for special education annually.

The plan also would involve reorganization of special education teachers, moving one teacher from Brunswick High School (BHS) to Coffin School, another from BJHS to Harriet Beecher Stowe School, and two education technicians from BHS to Coffin to support kindergarten students.

While overall district enrollment has been on the decline, Austin said special education enrollment has risen, with an increase of about 30 students from April 1, 2011, to April 1 of this year.

Technology

Demands for equipment replacement drive most of the school department’s increase in requested technology spending, which is up about $83,000 from last year’s expenses.

Director of Technology Integration Sue Woodhams said outdated equipment at elementary schools requires replacement.

At Harriet Beecher Stowe, Woodhams said, the building has caused unexpected technology demands. The design of the school, Woodhams said, leaves no alcoves for printers and no space in the hallways for those units either.

“So that has meant we had to put 40 printers in the school that we never anticipated,” Woodhams said. “That is going to be in the budget for a couple of years.”

In total, that budget request for printers amounts to $5,600 for next year.

Bigger items on the tech budget include a request for 23 new computers for the Computer Assisted Design (CAD) course at Brunswick High School — a cost of $ 25,300 — laptop replacements at BJHS and BHS, and interactive white boards, ceiling projectors, and sound systems at Coffin School, BJHS, and BHS.

In total, spending to outfit 10 district classrooms with interactive white boards, projectors and a connected computer amounts to $ 42,500, which prompted discussion by the board of the philosophy behind district investments in technology.

“I’m upset to see 10 proposed ( interactive white boards) in the budget when we’re also talking about laying off teachers,” At-large School Board member Michelle Small said.

Discussion of the item poured over into what Perreault said should be an opportunity to talk about the philosophy of investing in classroom technology.

“I have yet to see an (interactive) whiteboard used for anything but a video player in the classroom and that upsets me because I want to see it used in a great way,” Perreault said.

From the $4,250 requested for each classroom unit — including a whiteboard, projector, sound system and computer — Woodhams said the interactive whiteboard accounts for about $1,800 of that cost.

Small said she has concerns from her seventh grade son’s assignments that technology is driving lessons rather than the material.

“It’s not about the knowledge gained but the technology itself,” Small said.

As a part of Thursday’s discussion, officials also touched on spending for curriculum development, staff certification, professional development, student assessment, course reimbursement, substance abuse and library services.

The next forum, on Wednesday, will cover debt service, food service, adult education, Title I and II, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ( IDEA) spending. That meeting is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. in the town council chambers at Brunswick Station, 16 Station Ave., prior to the board’s full meeting.

dfishell@timesrecord.com

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