Montgomery school budget pared, but still over state cap

11.75 percent spending increase called for as efforts continue to make more cuts.

By: Jill Matthews
   MONTGOMERY — The Montgomery school administration presented an updated proposed budget Tuesday night that calls for an 11.75-percent spending increase for the 2004-2005 school year, down slightly from the 12-percent hike proposed two weeks earlier.
   But the administration estimates it may be closing in on the projected state cap increase limits. The administration estimates it is about $200,000 to $300,000 over the projected state cap, a significant cut from the $1.5 million over the projected cap estimated at the Jan. 27 meeting.
   One of the biggest cuts from the proposed budget comes from the elimination of additional trailers proposed at the middle school. Rescheduling classroom space by using home economics classrooms and cafeteria space for additional classrooms, and by purchasing wireless computer carts, the administration was able to avoid purchasing new trailers for the 2004-2005 school year.
   This is estimated to save the district $400,000 to $600,000, according to school Superintendent Stuart Schnur.
   Another significant adjustment is the decrease in out-of-district tuition. One out-of-district student whose tuition cost the school over $100,000 annually is moving out of the district. In addition, after working with the special education department, the administration concluded that the district needs to plan out-of-district tuition for only two additional students for the 2004-2005 school year, as opposed to the eight for which it had originally planned. This difference is estimated to reduce the proposed budget by over $600,000.
   "The toughest knot for us to absorb is special education," said Dr. Schnur, quick to note that he did not mean to suggest that it is not important to support special-education students. "If the state would just fund special education and nothing else, we would be ahead."
   Under the updated proposal, a proposed new fourth-grade teacher position would be eliminated and instead a third-grade teacher already in the school system would be moved to teach the fourth grade. The proposed addition of a new fifth-grade teacher would also be eliminated, making the fifth-grade class size rise slightly to a ratio of 25.6 students per teacher, according to documents distributed at the meeting.
   In addition, the proposed new high school guidance counselor position will be eliminated and instead one of the four middle school counselors will be moved to the high school. Dr. Schnur stressed that the ratio of guidance counselors to students in the middle school would not change since one of the guidance counselors currently there acts in a supervisory role and does not counsel any students.
   The administration has yet to determine tuition rates for Rocky Hill but estimates total tuition will pull in around $500,000 to $600,000, according to school Business Administrator James Strimple.
   The school district received about $3.5 million in state aid last year and expects to receive around the same amount this year, according to Mr. Strimple. He emphatically added that the Montgomery school district spends approximately $1,000 per pupil less than the state average.