A proposed city school budget topping $200 million would add about a dozen classroom teachers, create district office positions and expand professional and curriculum development.
The overall budget, which Superintendent Larry Spring presented to the school board on Wednesday night, increases spending by over 4 percent on the back of a $10 million foundation aid increase from the state.
The budget includes a marginal tax levy decrease — 0.25 percent less than the current budget.
The proposed budget adds seven elementary school teachers, three reading and instruction coaches and five secondary-grade teachers. The new elementary teachers would not run their own classes but would be deployed to multiple classes to help reduce class size during particular parts of the day, such as English language arts or math instruction.
“Each of those teachers if we add them as general education co-teachers, they can reduce class size in half for ELA instruction for each of three sections,” Spring said. “It seems to be a reasonably promising practice.”
Just under five new secondary-level teachers would be divided among a handful of specialized areas — business, health and family and consumer sciences, for example — including a second theater teacher who could help expand the high school drama program.
The plan also creates a handful of central office positions: a climate and safety manager, a recruitment specialist and point person tasked with helping to improve receivership schools. A second technology administrator would assist with the rollout of significant technology spending in the coming years through the statewide Smart Schools program. Also, two data specialists would be added.
Jamaica Miles, a local education advocate, said it appeared the budget proposal emphasized management positions at the cost of adding even more teachers.
“So I’m a little concerned we aren’t getting more bang for our buck,” Miles told the board.
After the meeting, Spring told her: “We took great care to make sure the majority of positions are direct service to students.”
Eight special education paraprofessionals would be added across the district under the proposal. A total of 2.5 psychologists and social worker positions would also be added. Spring highlighted the chance to create a unified athletics program, which would give opportunities to students with disabilities to participate more in sports.
School deans that were responsible for only student management would be eliminated and replaced by more expensive instructional supervisors, administrators who are authorized to oversee the teaching of teachers.
The district also hopes to expand professional and curriculum development opportunities for teachers, expanding time that teachers can spend on developing new classroom units over the summer and starting an intensive literacy summer program for elementary teachers.
The proposal slightly reduces the district tax levy — the overall amount of money it collects from local taxpayers — but by just 0.25 percent. Board member Cheryl Nechamen suggested it would be better to invest that money into reserves, but Mark Snyder said it was only fair that the budget lowered the overall tax levy given the large aid increase from the state.
“I wouldn’t stand on a hill and say we are lowering taxes; it’s only a quarter of a percent less,” Spring said. “Even though it is modest right now, I think we should begin to give some of that money back to the taxpayers. Even if it doesn’t feel like relief this year, we are beginning to move in that direction.”