As Fairfield-based school board looks to trim budget again, special education staff likely to get shuffled

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FAIRFIELD — After School Administrative District 49’s budget failed twice at the polls, members of the school board are combing through the most recent proposal, line by line, for cuts.

Officials reported that they could cut $199,586 from the most recent $27.37 million budget by shifting a special education teacher from Albion Elementary School to Lawrence Junior High School, adjusting the salaries of a couple of administrators and reducing the usage of two natural gas lines. The Fairfield-area school board met Monday night to discuss the potential changes, ahead of its first vote on the new budget next Monday. The board will need to take two votes on the budget before it reaches the public for a referendum on Sept. 12, two weeks into the school year. Chairman Shawn Knox said it is “not an issue” that the classes in the Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield district will start before the budget for the year has been finalized.

The adjustment to the special education staff would save the district $115,480, but leave Albion Elementary School with just one full-time teacher for the program. Knox said that “based on the (opinion of the) special education director and data analysis,” the move would not be disruptive to the current Albion students’ needs. The district more urgently needs to fill the role of a Lawrence Junior High School special education teacher who resigned this summer, he told inquiring board members.

“The need is still there (at the junior high),” Knox explained. “We can’t just eliminate that position right now.”

With enrollment at 339 last year, Lawrence Junior High School has more than triple the amount of students as Albion Elementary School, according to data from the state Department of Education. The district is also pursuing a grant to fund a special education technician.

Though the third budget — a tentative $27.17 million — is far from finalized, it is about $15,000 more than the initial figure brought to the district’s budget meeting in May. At that time, residents across the four towns voted to add $271,093 to the board-recommended $27.15 million, but rejected the extra 3.5% tax increase required to cover the expense. The district’s voters then rejected that out-of-balance plan at the polls in June. They also shot down a $27.37 million budget in July.

Former school board chairwoman Shelley Rudnicki posted on Facebook that the budget continues to fail because of its associated property tax increases and complained that the district spends a disproportionate amount of money per student at Albion Elementary School.

Each time the budget goes to referendum, according to Knox, it costs $10,000 to print ballots and pay clerks in the district’s four towns.

Board members Kara Kugelmeyer, Katie Flood and Jeff Neubauer proposed trying to match the first budget proposal by examining lines for instructional staff development, roofing, flooring and oil, on which the district has historically spent less than the amount it budgeted.

“It would be nice if we could find $15,000, so it’s the same as the first budget,” Kugelmeyer said. “I think that would be optimal.”

The financial struggles follow months of tension for the Fairfield-area school system. Former Superintendent Reza Namin, who commenced his role last year, resigned one month ago after his controversial restructuring plan divided the community. The plan cost the district $417,665 in administrator buyouts.



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