2018-19 Proposed Budget

On Monday, January 8, 2018, I presented my proposed budget to the Board of Education.  This proposed budget addresses the contractual obligations of the school district as well as identified needs.  The budget I proposed is an increase of 2.95% from the current school year budget.  To see the full budget proposal, please visit www.somers.k12.ct.us.

SchoolMessenger Communications System

Somers Public Schools is committed to efficient and responsible communications with parents and the community.  We will be replacing our current Remind text message system with SchoolMessenger to help us meet our communication goals. SchoolMessenger is a robust system that is designed to use phone, email, text messages, social media and mobile apps.  It will allow us to provide timely communication to parents and staff members on matters such as snow days, early dismissals, and school or district emergencies. General notifications will also be sent regarding school activities, student attendance, and lunch balances. The district will use the contact information on file to send messages to you.  

We will be rolling out the many features of this new system as follows:


  • January 8 - initial notification to parents (this post).  District level messages via SchoolMessenger will begin (email only).
  • January 16 - a text message will be sent in order to  “opt-in” for future text messages from SchoolMessenger.
  • January 22 - Schools will implement SchoolMessenger (text and email functions).  District level messages will also be sent via text and email.  Remind text messaging system will no longer be used.
  • January 29 - School Messenger Portal will be introduced. The Portal is an optional component that allows you to control the ways in which you prefer to be contacted. More information will be sent before January 29.
  • Future rollouts - integration with social media, attendance, and lunch balances.


As with any new system implementation, there may be some initial glitches as we uncover unanticipated problems.  We apologize in advance and thank you for your understanding and patience.  


We are confident that SchoolMessenger has great potential to enhance our communications with you.

Special thanks to the Somers Education Foundation for their generosity which facilitated this new system for Somers.


For technical and contact information please go to http://www.somers.k12.ct.us/district/technology/schoolmessenger.php

Weather and School Closings

Q.  The winter has certainly started early.  Can you please explain what goes into your decision making process in the morning when you must close school or delay the opening.

A. I agree, it has certainly been a busy season so far.  Each weather situation has its challenges.  Our first consideration when making these decisions is the safety of students and staff.  When there is a weather event (black ice, snow, mixed precipitation) the morning usually progresses as follows:


  • 4:00am - Wake up and and start brewing the coffee.
  • 4:00am-4:30am - Review TV, online, and specialized weathers reports developed exclusively for Somers.  I also watch doppler radar to see weather patterns in the region.  During this time, extensive texting begins (and continues throughout the process) with other area Superintendents.
  • 4:30am - Have conference call with Somers Department of Public Works (DPW) to determine road conditions now and later in the morning.  My number one question I ask multiple times is "will the roads be safe for busses and students to drive on?"
  • 4:45am - Have a conference call with meteorologist.  Somers subscribes to a weather service in which a meteorologist provides frequent updates and facilitates a conference call with Somers and other area Superintendents. 
  • 4:55am - Another call to DPW to get a final report on road conditions.
  • 5:00am-5:15am - Make final decision.  If there is a closing or delay, I call Somers Administrators who then make contact with the radio and TV stations, bus company, DPW, maintenance and custodial crews, and update online notifications.

Authentic Student Projects

Students learn a lot of content and skills while in school.  The power of teaching is in having them apply these skills in meaningful real world scenarios.

As I prepare to present the Superintendent's Proposed 2018-19 Budget (in January), I realized my document lacked a professional look.   The aesthetics of a significant document is as important as the content within.  I needed help and decided to create a real world project for the students in the graphic design classes at the high school.  They would be the graphics design firm and I would be the potential client that would hire them.

In November, I met with each class giving them an overview of my problem, the project, content and expectations.  During this class, students engaged with me in dialogue and asked clarifying questions.  With an understanding of the task at hand, they started working (individually and in groups) to solve my problem.

In early December, twenty-three design teams made presentations to me (see picture below) in an effort to "market" their concepts.  They shared their designs and philosophies.  Additionally, I asked them critical questions to further explore their thought processes.

Congratulations to Halle Raina for the winning design.

This form of project based learning is essential for students to not only apply learned skills, but to engage in meaningful and real-life scenarios.  In addition to the graphics skills they used, below are some other 21st century skills they utilized.  These are important skills for them to master in order to be successful in a highly competitive and global work force:

  • Problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Listening
  • Creativity
  • Public speaking
  • Justification


I truly had fun with this project and hope to engage students more in the future.


Extra Curricular Activities & Budget

Q.  Over the course of the past few months during our Connecticut state budget crisis, I became very concerned as a community member about the impact that funding has on extra curricular activities. As the superintendent of schools for the Somers School District, I was interested in the stance taken by administration on the funding and importance of such activities as the arts program (i.e. band, chorus, drama, art), sports (i.e. soccer, field hockey, cross country), and after school clubs (i.e. Unity Team, Model United Nations), as well as their impact on the student populous. Do you feel that it is very important to fund these programs? If so, what is being done to assist with the creation and maintenance of such activities within the district? How should our state government assist with this funding, and how will the budget cuts to the Somers schools affect funding for these programs? I feel that this is a very important concern that must be addressed by the school administration, with the decision leaving a distinct impact on the student population for years to come.

A.  The arts and extracurricular activities are vitally important components to a child's education.  Both the Board of Education and I feel very strongly that we should provide as many diverse opportunities to all students as possible.  In the past the Board has enthusiastically supported funding the arts and extracurricular activities and I anticipate they will in the future.  We are faced with some tough budget choices going forward in light of reduced municipal aid from the state.  The best way to assure that we continue to get the appropriate funding for all our programs is to be active in the budgeting process and communicate with state legislators to advocate for responsible state aid to all municipalities.

2017-18 Budget Update

On October 31, 2017, the Governor signed into law the budget for fiscal year 2018 (school year 2017-18) and fiscal year 2019 (school year 2018-19).  While there will be reductions in municipal aid to Somers, the reduction is more manageable than the original proposals.

The Somers Public Schools will have to reduce its current budget by $200,000 this year (compared to the projected $1,127,000 from the governor's executive order).  We will accomplish this reduction through a series of budget cuts in various operational line items.  No staff will be laid off.

We are happy that we do not need to let any staff go, but we still must remain fiscally frugal this year due to the $200,000 budget reduction.  We will try to manage these cut in a way that will minimize the impact on instruction and the students. 


Communication Survey


Communications with students, parents, staff and the community is critical to foster our partnership and continued success.  In order to enhance our communications, the school system will be researching and developing a comprehensive plan that meets the needs of all stakeholders.  Please take some time to answer questions in the online survey (see link below).  This information will be critical in helping us develop our communications plan.  Thank you!

Q.  I think it might be helpful to include in your blog the names and contact information for the state legislators who represent Somers with encouragement for concerned citizens to contact them and express their concerns.  They need to know that their inaction is causing real pain in our district. 

A.  Thank you for this suggestion.  I agree the best way to make sure Somers and the school system are fairly represented and municipal aid to the town is maintained is to contact your state legislators.  Let them know the impact of the budget crisis on our schools and kids.  Below is the contact information:


State Senator John Kissel
860-240-0531


House Representative Kurt Vail
860-240-8700
Kurt.Vail@housegop.ct.gov

Budget Update


Currently (as 9/29/17) there is no approved state budget.  The only concrete allocation of municipal aid is from the Governor's August 18, 2017 executive order.  This order (effective October 1, 2017) drastically reduces municipal aid to the Town of Somers, including significant cuts to Educational Cost Sharing.  In light of this scenario, I implemented a spending and hiring freeze last summer.  Additionally, plans have been developed for a 5% budget reduction ($1,127,000). It should be noted this reduction is hopefully a worst case scenario and could be rescinded and/or modified depending upon the final state budget outcomes.


Operational Reductions/Savings

We have made significant reductions to multiple line items that will have the following effects on the school system:

  1. Pension - We will not make any contributions to the Secretaries and Paraprofessional Pension Plan.  This will have significant impact on future budgets as we are obligated to fully fund the pension.  We hope to make up this difference by increasing contributions over the next five years.

  1. General Maintenance - This line item will be reduced by 25%.  This is problematic especially in light of the recommendations from a recent Facilities Study conducted by CREC.  We are committed to maintaining and providing students with a safe environment.  Reducing the budget means that certain maintenance projects will not occur.  Additionally, we will not address many of the items recommended in the CREC report.  In order to properly maintain safe and healthy schools we anticipate making larger future budget requests for the Board of Education Budget Maintenance Accounts, larger capital improvement requests to the Somers Board of Finance and a higher than anticipate potential bond/referendum request to address the recommendations of the CREC report.

  1. Supplies and Resources - Many classrooms do not have adequate supplies and resources to implement the curriculum as well as best pedagogical practices.  This ultimately impacts student learning.  By not meeting the learning needs of our students, we put them at risk of not having the proper skill sets to progress to the next level.  Additionally, this could lead to greater future expenses for intervention, remediation and special education.  Below is a partial list of supplies and resources cut:
    1. Textbooks
    2. Workbooks
    3. Departmental supplies effecting Science, Technology Education, Foods and other resource intensive subjects
    4. Library books and online subscriptions
    5. Office supplies
    6. Custodial supplies
    7. Athletic equipment

  1. Curriculum and Professional Development - We are not providing any professional development outside the school system.  This means the instructional gains we have made will come to a halt.  If teachers are not growing professionally, our children will not be exposed to the most recent and innovative teaching practices.  Additionally, a rigorous, standards based curriculum is the foundation for student learning.  We will not be able to continue our development of a unified curriculum that assures common learning experiences for all students.

  1. Capital Outlay - We are not replacing equipment that is failing, end of its life or in need of replacement.  This has dramatically impacted our technology program.  We are unable to replace aging equipment in the hands of students and staff.  This impacts instruction as they are unable to effectively access the emerging technologies essential to 21st century learning.  Additionally, not replacing aging infrastructure puts our telecommunications, network, information systems and data security at risk.

  1. Health Insurance - We achieved some savings in our health insurance due to many staff opting out of our plan as well as the hiring freeze.

  1. Salaries - We achieved savings (projected through the end of the school year) by initiating a hiring freeze.  This in turn has had a negative impact on staff and students.  Staff has assumed increased workloads thus reducing time they can dedicate to individualized student instruction.


Staffing Reductions

Despite our best efforts to reduce the budget through operational expenses, we could not find over $1 million in costs savings.  Unfortunately, the balance will come through staff reductions. The total number of staff layoffs is still undetermined and will be finalized the first week of October. All staff reductions will go into effect November 1. This gives us a little more time for the state to come up with a budget.


Impact

These cuts, if enacted will have a devastating impact on the students in Somers Public Schools.  We will be taking a step backwards in which it will take years to recover.  Below are some of the critical impacts of these budget and staff reductions:
  • Innovative classroom instruction will be hindered due to the lack of resources
  • Entire instructional programs will be eliminated
  • Class sizes could be impact
  • Teachers will be forced to teach different subjects and/or grade levels
  • There will be major disruptions due to mid-year rescheduling of classes and teachers
  • Struggling students in need of additional interventions in order to succeed will not have access to them
  • Students will not receive the individualized attention they deserve and are accustomed to
  • The district cannot continue its development of 21st century curriculum and professional practice
  • NEASC recommendations will not be addressed possibly affecting future accreditation of the high school
  • Facilities will not be maintained to the standards the community demands
  • After school clubs and activities will be eliminated
  • Technology integration, data security and information systems will not be properly maintained or supported

Budget Update

I am sure you are aware of the Connecticut budget crisis.  This may have an impact on the school district depending on the final resolution.  At this time there is not much information coming to school superintendents so we are operating in an environment of uncertainty.

The Governor’s Executive Order calls for massive cuts in municipal aid to Somers.  This includes the ECS Grant (Educational Cost Sharing).  The governor reduced ECS by 50% from about $6 million to around $3 million.  Obviously a reduction of this magnitude could have a devastating impact on the school system for years to come.  We do not think this will be the final resolution.

When the state legislature finalizes a budget we are hopeful that any cuts in municipal aid (especially the ECS grant) will be small and thus minimize the impact on the school system.  In anticipation of a reduction in aid from the state, we instituted a spending and hiring freeze over the summer.  We are trying to reserve our budget so we can meet any cuts when the final state budget is approved.  Obviously this means some things will be different this year for students including the suspension of field trips, postponing the purchases of new text books, not buying or replacing technology and some positions not being filled.

I am sorry and frustrated that we have to start the school year this way.  I pledge to do everything in my power to minimize any impact on our students as a result of the final budget passed by the state legislature.  Let’s hope the governor and legislature do not solve the state budget crisis by sacrificing our schools and students.