Less instruction in foreign languages in elementary schools and middle schools and requiring high school athletes to "pay to play" are among Supt. of Schools David G. Title's recommendations for coping with a $2.8 million cut to the $148.5 million Board of Education budget adopted in January.
"This is obviously a very important and very difficult process to go through," Title said to a subcommittee of the Board of Education Thursday afternoon in the Education Center, 501 Kings Highway East.
Title's recommendations also call for a reduction of 16.4 certified staff and 22.8 non-certified staff, for a combined total of 39.2. But that doesn't mean 39 employees will be fired because the reductions include eliminating additional staff that the district planned to hire and reducing the number of hours existing employees work.
Title and Margaret Mary Fitzgerald, assistant superintendent of Human Resources, couldn't say Thursday afternoon how many employees would have to be fired, partly because the number of retirements is not yet finalized. "I think that there will be some layoffs, but it's too early to put a number on it," Title said.
The school board's class size guidelines would be maintained under Title's recommended cuts, though the number of students per class at McKinley School would rise from 19 to 21 in kindergarten through second grade, and from 21 to 23 in grades 3 through 5. Osborn Hill School also would lose an instructional improvement teacher.
Title said he maintained a new elementary staffing model, which is designed to increase literacy and math comprehension; a new staffing model for gifted students; advanced placement courses; and the "culiminating course in a sequence."
But Title said he's proposing that the Board of Education eliminate some electives, scale back intramural sports by $50,000 to $60,000 per school, eliminate JV basketball at middle schools, eliminate the late bus at the high schools on all four days and eliminate the late bus at the middle schools on Wednesdays. "If you're not running intramurals as much, you don't need the late bus as much," he said.
If residents succeed in restoring $800,000 to the Board of Education's $145.68 million budget in 2011-12, Title said he would eliminate "pay to play" for high school athletes and reinstate what had been cut to the World Language Program in grades 4, 5 and 6. Those cuts include offering Spanish in grade 6 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday instead of every day and reducing instruction in Spanish in grades 4 and 5 from 100 minutes a week to 50 minutes a week. At the high schools, Title is proposing that two advanced levels of Chinese be combined into one class.
But Title said the Board of Education would have to take action on his recommendations well before a referendum on adding $800,000 to the Board of Education's budget - assuming 1,748 valid signatures on petitions asking for a referendum are submitted to the Town Clerk's Office by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Title said changes to the school district from his recommendations will be noticeable and impact the quality of Fairfield's school system. "There's no found money here," he said, adding that he didn't believe in "phantom cuts," such as reducing the special education budget when that expense won't be reduced in the next fiscal year.
Title said he already cut maintenance and technology requests before the Board of Education received his proposed budget in January and that those areas also sustained cuts in the previous two fiscal years.
School board member Sue Dow said she didn't like to see reductions in World Languages in grades 4 to 6, "pay to play" at the high schools, which Title said would cost $125 to $225 per team with a $500 family cap, and a reduction in extracurricular activities. "Sports and extracurricular activities are so much a part of the high school experience," she said.
Board of Education Vice Chairman Pam Iacono said instruction in World Languages should be restored and "pay to play" should be eliminated if $800,000 is restored to the school board's budget. She said "pay to play" was instituted at her high school 20 years ago and was still in effect. "It's gone up, and it's stayed. Once it's here, it's not going away," she said.
School board member Catherine Albin said she was sickened by having to reduce foreign language instruction. "It's irresponsible for us to be sitting in a room, as part of this town, tearing apart World Languages yet again. We did it in the 1990s and spent a decade bringing it back."
Albin also objected to "pay to play," saying the town of Fairfield didn't have "an educational surtax" and was "supposed to support our public institutions."
Title said he didn't offer school board members a "menu of choices" for achieving $2.8 million in savings because it was difficult enough to arrive at that figure once.
Title said he decided against requiring students to pay a fee to park at the high schools because some students would avoid the fee by parking on residential streets by Fairfield Warde High School, which created problems in the past when that high school was overcrowded. He said the district also would have to hire someone to ensure all cars parked in the lot had paid the fee and that it was too much to implement a parking fee and the "pay to play" fee for sports teams.
Iacono said she already had been through the school board's budget and didn't know of any alternatives to Title's recommendations. "Unfortunately, I don't think there's a lot to say," she said. "It is what it is, and we have to deal with it."
Albin agreed. "I don't see that the list could be much different...There's nothing to do here, but I'll tell you - it's extremely sad."
Albin said the school district wasn't just dealing with the $2.8 million cut imposed by town boards. She said it also was dealing with the effect of cuts in the previous two fiscal years.
"I know all this is very difficult for some parents to hear," Title said. "It's a sad day. It's a sad day for everybody."
"We cannot offer the same educational services with $2.8 million in less money. I don't know how much clearer I could have been in public about this, and here it is."
Albin said some residents about a decade ago had predicted the town wouldn't fully fund two high schools.
The full Board of Education will hold a meeting about Title's recommendations at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Education Center.