Anger Rises Over ELPS Budget Cuts

In what is cited as the “worst budget” in over 30 years, at least 18 teacher and staff positions are to be cut


Many EL residents and teachers wait to get into the BOE meeting on Feb. 6.


As is, the Board of Education’s (BOE) proposed budget will cause over 18 teachers and staff to lose their jobs, creating rippling ramifications throughout the district. 

All library assistant staff across the district are set to be cut. 

The Coastal Connections program is set to be downsized and students relocated back to the high school.

Seven elementary teachers will be removed, mostly at Lillie B. Haynes elementary. 

At least five paraprofessionals and one instructional technology coach will be dismissed. 

Historical data shows that over the past 10 years, the Board of Finance (BOF) has tended to approve budgets with a two to three percent increase. If the BOF does the same this year, the BOE will have to double the amount of cuts already listed on the budget, creating truly dire circumstances for the district. With the middle school downsized during the last budget cycle and the elementary schools during this one, more cuts means the high school is next.

Scott Mahon, long-time English teacher and East Lyme Teachers’ Association President, said that this budget is unlike any other he has witnessed over his 30-year tenure at ELHS.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen. We’ve had bad years, but not like this. As is, this 6.97 percent increase cuts into the bone. If the budget is cut more, it will only mean more teachers go home. And that will be in the high school, probably,” Mr. Mahon said.

Mr. Mahon cites library assistants and paraprofessionals – two positions that are to be significantly reduced – as the lifeblood of ELHS.

“You look at Christine Maxfield alone, the work she’s done and the impact she’s had on students over the years. It’s something that can’t be matched. She will be missed, and it will be felt,” Mr. Mahon said.

Paraprofessionals, or paraeducators, are workers who support students with disabilities, supervise individual or small-group work, help with behavior management, and handle setting up and cleaning up classrooms.

The sum of departmental requests for next year’s budget, the amount needed to maintain the same positions, school resources, and employee benefits, totaled just over $59 million, or a 10.30 percent increase from the previous year’s budget. This sum was then cut by Central Office personnel to the 6.97 percent increase, nearly $2 million less than requested.

Jeannine Barber, Library Media Specialist, is set to be the only remaining library staff member at the high school. The space, which has a wealth of resources for students, has become overburdened due to substitute teacher shortages. When there is no substitute coverage for a class, students get relocated to the sometimes overfilled library, forcing Ms. Barber to close off the space to other students, limiting the opportunity for collaboration and conversation with peers. In one case observed Feb. 3, 115 students were relocated to the library during a single period. 

Besides feeling disheartened that her colleagues are leaving, Ms. Barber worries about what will become of these resources when her coworkers leave.

“The library is the heart of the school. Everybody uses the library, for all different reasons. People don’t really research in books anymore, but people come to the library because they just want to be quiet, or because they’re having a hard day, or because they want to do group work or check out books, or play chess. And without library assistants, those resources become much harder to maintain,” Ms. Barber said.

In the English department, the potential for further cuts worry English teacher and department head Kimberly Buckley. Ms. Buckley also noted that she would like to hear more from the public as well as the town government regarding the school budget.

“Simply put, I would like to hear more from the people of the town. If the budget is responsible, and accurately represents the needs of the school, then it must be put forward. When I was on the BOE in Clinton, that is the argument we made to the BOF: let the town decide,” Ms. Buckley said.

While Mr. Newton holds the belief that all positions are important, he says his job requires him to make decisions that won’t have “dire implications on taxes for our community.”

“We are trying to minimize the impact and have as few cuts as possible. But there’s that balance; going much higher, that’s where we have concern with it not being a fiscally responsible budget,” Mr. Newton said.

To Mr. Newton, “fiscally responsible” means achieving a balance between district spending and community taxation. Mr. Newton’s job is to find where he feels that balance is best accomplished.

“I’ve been a superintendent for 10 years, and this is the worst budget I’ve ever had to deal with. It’s forcing us to do some things that we don’t want to do. It’s like the perfect storm: high inflation, high health insurance, few retirees, and salaries all roll over too. And you put all of that mess together, and it just causes a much higher budget, and it’s unfortunate,” Mr. Newton said. 

This year’s budget, which fell into a deficit of $677,000 and caused a hard-line spending freeze, paper shortage, supplies shortage, and widespread teacher stress, was partially caused by underestimation last year for this year’s health insurance cost increases. Mr. Newton and the BOE budgeted the increase at five percent, while the actual increase came in at 10.5 percent, creating an unexpected $474,000 burden on the BOE. Although Mr. Newton said the underestimation occurred purely out of bad luck, information obtained from The Day says that ELPS had been advised by economic institutions to anticipate a five to eight percent growth in health insurance costs, suggesting that the district budgeted on the extreme low end of what was advised.

Other budget changes include a three percent raise for Central Office administrators; a one percent raise for most teachers; and cuts to field trips, library books, and general supplies. All the while, according to 2020 data from the Connecticut Education Association, ELHS teachers with master’s degrees will earn less on the max step than teachers in 161 other Connecticut school districts, the vast majority of the state’s 174 districts.

For frustrated students, Mr. Mahon recommends speaking out at the town’s Board of Education and Board of Finance meetings.

“High schoolers can speak to what elementary teachers have done for them. If students feel it is important to maintain the level of education that they have received as students here, whether it was in elementary, middle, or high school, the Boards should hear how cuts would impact learning. It would be good that the Board of Education hears all the opinions of the constituents, students, teachers, and staff,” Mr. Mahon said.

Mr. Mahon continued, “Student voices hold a lot of power.” 

Link to Fiona Samuelson’s Opinion on Budget:

A Letter To The BOE: The Faces Behind 18.5 FTE Are Not Up For Debate