While any request for an increase during budget time will be tough for the town's residents to swallow, the proposed budget of David B. Erwin, the Superintendent of School's 3.99 percent increase seems very lean.
Of the 3.99 percent increase, 3.01 of it will go towards starting full day kindergarten in the school system. The addition of all day kindergarten will see an increase of 6 1/2 teachers' salaries and benefits. While there is some money in the capital expenses account to retro-fit rooms with sinks and toilets, the personnel cost will be new.
The Superintendent is also asking for an additional business teacher at Berlin High School as well as a technician to deal with he new hardware and software problems that may arise and a technology integration professional who can help with curriculum revision.
"You might look at a 3.99 percent increase and see it as a significant increase but I would say it is a very lean budget," Erwin said. "The administrators are getting a 0 percent raise this year. This is the first year of the teacher's contract so they will get an increase. The full day kindergarten is the biggest driver. When you go through the budget you will see we're not asking for anything revolutionary."
So why is it important to get full day kindergarten up and running now?
"With the common core of standards that are coming, the state is assuming that kindergarten students will know more, so the sooner we can get them in a school setting the better," Erwin said. "In 2015, kindergarten students will be tested and what they are expected to know will be significantly more than they know now.
"One mom told us in the forum we did (on full day kindergarten back in October) that she hoped full day kindergarten would allow more time for play. She said she bought new sneakers for her child for kindergarten but they had no tread taken off of them because we are trying to fit a lot of academic teaching into a short time with half-day kindergarten."
Erwin said one simple example of what kindergarten students will be expected to know is "duck." Not only will they have to know it is an animal that swims in the water but that they should "duck" if something is thrown at them.
Erwin's proposed budget was presented to the Board of Education and elementary principals came in at another meeting to elaborate some more on their needs.
The Board of Education will adopt a budget to send to the Town Council on Feb. 11.
"I hope this progresses pretty quickly because proposing full day kindergarten puts some pressure on parents," Erwin added. "They will need to know if their children will be in school all day or if it will be half-day. That will affect jobs and after school care for them. The Town Manager and then the Town Council, of course, have the final say."