Seymour school district officials said they had to lay off 13 workers last month because of a shortfall in state funding.
The move eliminated all “clerical paraprofessionals” from the district.
Those workers answered phones, answered the entrance doors and assisted with lunch duties, according to an email from Seymour Public Schools Superintendent Michael Wilson.
The workers, many of whom are Seymour residents, according to Seymour First Selectman Kurt Miller, lost their jobs as of Dec. 31.
“While these cuts hurt, they were necessary in order for our district to assist in meeting the budgetary constraints placed upon us by the state,” Wilson said in a Dec. 13 memorandum to staff.
The clerical paraprofessionals were targeted because cutting those positions would have the least impact on classroom learning, officials said.
The Seymour Board of Education approved the layoffs and other cuts at a Dec. 12 meeting.
It wasn’t an easy decision, according to Jennifer Magri, the new chairwoman of the Seymour Board of Education.
Magri and Seymour First Selectman Kurt Miller appeared on “Navel Gazing” Wednesday for a live video discussion of the layoffs.
“Navel Gazing,” a weekly talk show, is sponsored by ValleyGivesBack.org, an initiative of The Valley Community Foundation.
The complete show is embedded below. Click to listen. The story continues after the video.
Town and school leaders met several times to find a way to avoid layoffs. At the end schools officials said they had no choice.
“It was something none of us wanted to do,” Magri said.
Miller said the school budget problems stem from the state’s protracted and dysfunctional budget process last year.
The board cut $310,000 from its current budget in December because state aid to the school system filtered through the town — the “education cost sharing grant,” or “ECS” — was reduced at the last minute because of the state’s budget problems.
“The town expected to receive $10,128,472 in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding in 2017-18,” Wilson said in an email. “The revised State budget amount for Seymour ECS is $8,695,451.”
That’s about a $1.4 million decrease.
The interview with Miller and Magri is embedded below as a podcast. Article continues after the embedded audio.
In addition to the loss of state aid, the school district faced a sharp increase in special education costs — $500,000, according to meeting minutes.
Eliminating the 13 clerical paraprofessionals — which amount to 3 percent of the district’s personnel — saved the district $212,000 (for the period covering Jan. 1 to July 1, or half a fiscal year), Wilson said.
That figure includes unemployment costs, Miller said.
The responsibilities of the district’s clerical paraprofessionals are being absorbed by secretaries, according to Seymour school board meeting minutes
The district also eliminated an internship program in December to cut costs.
New Budget Process Underway
On Tuesday, the Seymour Board of Education approved a budget for next year (the 2018-2019 school year) totaling $33,378,753.
It carries a 1.23 percent in spending. None of the positions or programs cut in December are returning, Magri said.
That budget will now go to the Seymour Board of Finance for review. Eventually Seymour votes will either approve it or reject it during a referendum in the spring.
Magri said the newly proposed budget includes a new special education teacher and a new special education paraprofessional for the Bungay School.
Special education costs often skyrocket if a child cannot be educated within his or her home district. The school district is responsible for covering tuition and transportation costs to send the student to another school or program.
The district wants to hire a new special education teacher and paraprofessional so more kids with specific needs can be taught within their hometown, instead of being sent outside the district at higher costs.
“The hope is that we will be able to bring some of the students who are out-placed back into the district with the addition of this classroom,” Magri said.
A special education paraprofessional, by the way, is not the same as a clerical paraprofessional. Special education paraprofessionals are assigned to assist a specific student or students with special needs.