East Lyme High School's auditorium was less than packed last night for the first public hearing on the proposed 2013-2014 budget for the East Lyme School District but parents of students attending Lillie B. Haynes Elementary School turned out in force.
They spoke out in favor of funding for all-day kindergarten, which is a new line item in this year's budget to the tune of $426,000 to pay for an additional five teachers, plus aides and classroom supplies. But their overwhelming message was to ask the school board to consider adding funding for an additional teacher to reduce class size in the third grade at Lillie B. Haynes.
While other elementary schools in East Lyme—most significantly Center School in Niantic—have seen a severe decline in student enrollment, Lillie B. Haynes school has seen an increase in the past two years with new students moving into the district.
Although the school district as a whole has experienced a decline in enrollment, and expects a total of 112 fewer students in the school system in 2013-2014, Lillie B. Haynes has experienced growth.
In 2013-2014, the elementary school is expecting to grow from 189 to 190 students in 3rd grade. So while some classes at Center School have just 12 or 13 students per teacher, Lillie B. Haynes has 24 students per teacher in the third grade, which is the optimal maximum number of students allowed by the school district.
A number of parents said they believed their children weren't doing as well as they might, or even as well as their older siblings did, because they were getting lost in larger class sizes of 24 students.
Budgeting For Unpredicted Increases
The Special Meeting of the East Lyme Board of Education that followed the public hearing did offer parents a ray of hope for the next school year, however.
East Lyme Superintendent Dr. James Lombardo said that the district had earmarked $50,000 for new security measures, but its request for new school security infrastructure has now been moved over into the town of East Lyme's Capital Improvement Fund.
Pending approval from the East Lyme Board of Selectmen and the Department of Finance, funding for additional cameras, panic buttons, and the like will be paid for via bonds. The district plans to keep the additional $50,000 in the school budget, however, and plans to use it to cover the cost of the salary of an additional teacher if needed.
"It would allow us the opportunity to add an additional classroom at Haynes at 4th grade," said Lombardo.
Sonja Mazzuli, who has children attending Lillie B. Haynes, said she was "hopeful" after hearing that the district at least had a budget contingency in mind if class sizes continued to swell. As her husband, Chris, a lifelong East Lyme resident, noted at the public hearing, "We need to promote smaller class sizes."