REDDING — Slipping math, English and science achievement among local students have prompted the Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts to propose adding new positions.
“Our students have declined in achievement since the pandemic by up to 10 percent in mathematics and anywhere from 5 to 7 (percent) in English language arts, and so we have a three-pronged strategy to improve achievement in Easton, Redding and Region 9,” Superintendent Jason McKinnon said during the Board of Selectmen’s March 20 budget presentation.
That plan involves adding a math coordinator and a literacy teacher, plus investing in a new science curriculum to address lackluster science scores.
These are among the new positions and investments proposed in the regional school districts’ budgets for the 2023-24 year.
The Redding Board of Education’s nearly $24.6 million proposed budget for John Read Middle School and Redding Elementary School reflects a 3 percent years-over-year spending increase.
While the Region 9 Board of Education’s $24.8 million spending plan reflects a 0.23 percent increase over current district spending, Redding’s $11.5 million share of the budget reflects a 4 percent decrease.
In Redding, the town is considering a $52.4 million budget proposal between school and municipal spending.
The Region 9 school board will hold a public hearing on its 2023-24 operating budget at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The annual town budget meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 19, in the Town Hall hearing room, and the town and Region 9 budget referendum will be held 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 2, in the Redding Community Center.
Last year, Redding voters approved a $51.4 million budget sum split between the town’s $15.6 million operating budget, the Redding Board of Education’s $23.8 million budget and a $12 million contribution to Region 9.
McKinnon said major priorities in the school budget include staffing and addressing student achievement needs.
Region 9’s proposed budget includes three new positions — a kindergarten through eighth grade math coordinator for $40,000, an English language learning teacher for $27,000 and a structured literacy teacher for $34,000 — the cost of which would be split between Redding and Easton.
McKinnon said the ELL teacher is needed due to a growing number of non-English-speaking students in the districts who, in the past, have been serviced by reading teachers and special education teaching staff.
“When we allocate time and resources from those reading teachers, we’re actually taking time away from students that have reading disabilities,” he said. “It is time for us to have a teacher that is certified in the area of English language learning who can provide support to those students.”
McKinnon said a structured literacy teacher would be “a smart investment” given the district’s growing number of students with dyslexia and growing number of students not reading at grade level.
“Special education is 25 percent of our budget. Anytime we can provide services to students who are struggling early, it means we’re probably saving money in that cost center,” he said.
In addition to math and language arts achievement, McKinnon said the district wasn’t pleased with its science scores so the 2023-24 budget includes $20,000 for the implementation of a new science curriculum.
The budget also includes $5,000 for the development of a new capstone for eighth graders, McKinnon said, noting that one of the district’s strategic priorities is to get students “engaged in more authentic experiences that are focused on their interests.”
He said the capstone experience will allow students to “study an area that interests them.”
Health insurance, pension costs and paramedic services are among the drivers in the municipal budget, First Selectwoman Julia Pemberton said.
The town must contribute an additional $120,000 to its pension, an 11 percent increase mandated through the Connecticut Municipal Retirement System, she said. Fortunately, Pemberton said the town negotiated its health insurance cost down to a 5 percent increase instead of the 6 percent originally budgeted.
The town’s paramedic services budget would increase $71,000 next fiscal year, she said.
“The town of Redding has a regional paramedic that we share with Bethel and since the pandemic, paramedic services and all emergency management services have been under incredible stress,” she said. “Job turnover and shortage in the market of employees has essentially led to a significant increase in the wages in paramedics.”
Neighboring communities, including New Fairfield, are seeing similar challenges, with that town looking at a $285,000 increase in paramedic service costs next fiscal year.
Danbury Hospital — the town’s paramedic service provider — has been “running the program for the last year at a deficit and can no longer do that,” Pemberton said, noting that the $71,000 increase includes “a catch-up payment” so the program breaks even.
Minimum wage adjustments also led to $1 increases in Parks and Recreation workers’ pay.
Pemberton said there are also wage increases stemming from new department head hires. She said the increases are “above what you would normally expect,” but reflect current market rates for their professions.