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East Lyme, Lyme-Old Lyme Education Budgets Gain a Little Wiggle Room

East Lyme and Lyme-Old Lyme School Districts' budgets both include a big new line item to pay for state-mandated teacher evaluations but the state now says the program doesn't have to be implemented in full for 2013-2014.

After numerous meetings and one public forum, the East Lyme Board of Education last night voted to accept the $42.59 million budget proposed by School Superintendent James Lombardo.

The proposed budget will now be delivered to the East Lyme Board of Selectmen and to the Board of Finance for review, discussion, and approval before it goes before voters, who will ultimately decide whether they want to sign off on it or not. 

Lyme-Old Lyme School District was set to present its proposed 2013-2014 school budget to the public in a forum last night, but that meeting was postponed due to road and weather conditions until February 20.

The proposed budgets for both districts include one hefty new line item to cover the cost of staff evaluations on an annual basis as is now required by the state. That, however, may not need to be as fully funded as originally anticipated by the school superintendents for the upcoming school year.

State Delays Full Implementation of Teacher Evaluation System

State-mandated educator evaluations were supposed to be implemented by every school district in the state starting in 2013. To carry out this mandate school districts realized they'd need to hire additional staff and purchase new computer programs to process the data. 

That hasn't been sitting well with any school district, as funds are tight in many towns and the evaluation system is still being refined by the state even as the deadline to implement it draws near.

After hearing back from school districts, boards of education, educators, and from the 10 pilot evaluation programs currently being test-driven by districts throughout the state—of which Waterford School District is one—the State Board of Education granted an 11th hour reprieve. 

Although all districts must submit their evaluation and support plans to the State Board of Education for review and approval by April 15, districts no longer have to implement the plan in full in the 2013-2014 school year.

Instead, districts now have the flexibility to use it as a "bridge year" and roll-out the new evalution system in phases. The state Board of Education has given school districts three options:

  • The preferred alternative approach is whole model, at least one-third of schools in the district, and all certified staff within those schools.  
  • Another alternative is whole model and classroom teachers and administrators within 50 percent of the schools in district.  
  • Other locally developed options may also be submitted to the Department for review and approval. 

"To be honest, I find all of the options a little bit ludicrous," said East Lyme School Superintendent James Lombardo. "I expect, frankly, that we’ll come up with a locally-determined option."

Keeping Its Powder Dry

In a memo announcing the decision to give school districts greater flexibility, the State Board of Education also promised that the state would provide financial and technical support to help districts implement the evaluation system.

Nevertheless, Lombardo recommended that the board keep the $133,000 currently included in the budget as a new line item to pay for the part-time staff person, new software and data management systems, and additional clerical support that he believes will be needed to oversee the evaluation system. 

The district may not need all that money next fiscal year but the new teacher evaluation system still looms on the horizon as one of several state-mandated programs that will be affecting school budgets going forward. 

"My recommendation is to leave those funds in the budget and, as we move farther down the road, we can say we can drop back this $133,000," said Lombardo. "I would not recommend that we pull that from the board-approved budget. I expect a lot of new information is going to be coming down the road." 

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