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Thursday, January 24 News

Superintendent seeks $3M increase in budget

DARIEN — Interim Superintendent Elliott Landon is asking the Board of Education for a nearly $3 million increase in next year’s school budget, beginning in July.

In a proposal unveiled at the board’s Jan. 3 meeting, Landon requested a spending increase of $2,924,920 — or 2.98 percent — to a total of $101,047,186 for the 2019-20 school year. The proposed budget will now have to be reviewed by the education and finance boards, as well as the Representative Town Meeting.

“Administration this year was particularly cognizant of the need to hold our budget expenditures down to the most reasonable level we could do without holding kids,” Landon said.

Landon recommended adding one guidance counselor at Middlesex Middle School, as well as four psychologists at the elementary levels — an addition he emphasized would not be classified as a special-education expenditure.

“This is an expenditure for every kid in the district,” he said. “They have to do with such things as social emotional learning. It has to do with kids in crisis because of divorce, death in the families, or some serious illness in the family.”

A majority of the budget increase — 80 percent, according to Landon — would will go toward the costs of personnel and benefits.

Landon said placing a guidance counselor at the middle school was an initiative he was passionate about.

“Here we will be able to have two counselors on a grade level following the kids through from grade six to grade seven and grade eight,” he said. “This will be better for kids, and better for families. Certain guidance counselors assigned to kids will know those kids better than anyone else in the building ever has.”

To partially offset the new staff, the plan is to cut three teachers from the elementary schools. The reduction in teachers is also a result of an expected decline in enrollment next year.

Elementary school enrollment is expected to drop slightly, then gradually rise in the upcoming years, according to projections made by consultants for the school district. Board Chairperson Tara Ochman said those teachers wouldn’t necessarily be fired.

“It could be retirement, it could be termination or we could be releasing staff because we no longer have need for them,” she said.

For the board’s Capital Improvement Plan, a total of $2,297,324 has been proposed for “priority one” projects, which includes various upgrades at the schools.

The proposed budget increase of 2.98 percent is just slightly over the three-year average of 2.49, Landon said, and a small increase from the 2.34 percent increase last year.

“It’s well within an acceptable amount considering the economy and what’s going on with inflation,” he said.

In the 2018-19 school year Darien schools’ per-pupil spending was around $21,122, slightly more than the neighboring town of New Canaan, who spent $20,874.

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“I think considering what we’re spend in comparison to the other (towns), I think the community of Darien is getting one heck of a bang for its buck,” Landon said. “You’re getting incredibly high education at what would appear to be a reasonable price.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com, 203-842-2568

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