Guilford Schools Seek $3.75M Budget Hike For Teacher Salaries, Inflation


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GUILFORD — Faced with the loss of federal coronavirus relief money and an ongoing teacher shortage, the school district is asking for a nearly $3.75 million — or 5.5 percent — budget increase this year, which would fund raises for teachers, mental health workers, safety monitors, and athletics and mathematics coaches. 

This is the third year in a row that Guilford has requested a budget increase of 4 percent or more, according to district data. Last year’s total budget was $68.6 million, but Superintendent of Schools Paul Freeman told the Board of Education that more spending was necessary to maintain the district’s high academic quality. 

“Whether it’s athletic performance, outside objective evaluation, standardized test scores — college placements particularly — or the arts or athletics communities, our students do well. And if we want to continue that, to continue to be able to say that, we have to invest up front. We cannot scrimp now and begin to see declines,” Freeman told board members on Tuesday.

The previous two years, the budget increase was the result of spiking health care costs. This year, an increase in teacher salaries and inflation in other areas are behind the administration’s requests.  

Freeman said teachers were set to receive a large salary increase this year, which was necessary if Guilford wanted to compete with surrounding districts. 

“We have been wrestling with a teacher shortage for several years now. For a long time, Guilford appeared to be insulated from that teacher shortage. We’re not insulated from that teacher shortage,” he said. 

Freeman said the district has been unable to find world language teachers for the elementary schools over the last two years, and has had veteran teachers leave for other districts. 

“Sometimes that happens because there’s opportunities that are closer to home that cut the commute down. Sometimes that happens because other districts are outpaying us or even offering signing bonuses. If we intend to remain competitive and hire the best teachers in the state into our school system, then we will see salary increases,” he said.  

Freeman noted that substitute shortages meant the district had to pay teachers to cover classes in addition to their own. 

“When we have world language positions at the high school that aren’t covered by an outside position, so we have to ask two of our teachers to work 120 percent of our contracts, those begin to impact those costs,” Freeman said. 

The district is also facing increased costs in special education, transportation and electricity, as well as increasing the number of security cameras and upgrading the security software. According to Freeman, the district needed to add seven special education teachers and five paraprofessionals to keep up with the need. 

The salary line also includes the cost of a kindergarten teacher at Lakes Elementary, a fourth-grade teacher at Leete Elementary and a drama teacher for Adams Middle School. 

According to state data, the district’s special education population has increased steadily over the last four years, from 11.5 percent of students in 2019-20 to 14 percent last year. 

The district has also requested funds to keep a school psychologist and social worker that were originally paid for through federal coronavirus aid. Freeman said the district had applied twice for a state grant funding mental health workers in schools, but was rejected both times. The budget also takes on the cost of six unarmed school safety monitors, which the town has been paying for through COVID relief money. 

“They are in the buildings, walking the hallways, checking the perimeter, and being visible and present at student arrival, student dismissal, lunches and recesses. That is a significant relief to a principal who knows that there is an absence among the lunch monitors today, or among the recess monitors today,” Freeman explained. 

But other requests are new, such as a full-time math instructional coach at each of the elementary schools and at the middle school, at a cost of $146,500. Although not included in the budget, Freeman also asked the board to consider adding in a math coach at the high school, which he said would be extremely helpful. 

“We have one coach at this high school who services approximately 75 teachers and focuses really only on literacy and humanities. To be able to build out to have a full-time coach here who focuses on mathematics and STEM would be an enormous opportunity,” he said.  

The budget also includes funds that would cover the cost for the hockey team’s use of the ice rink and the swim team’s use of the pool — funds that, until last year, players’ families had to pay. Also included are funds for a head cheerleading coach — a team the district plans on reviving — and additional assistant coaches in football and tennis. 

In October, parents, coaches and students asked the district in a budget forum to spend more money on athletics. In particular, about a dozen cheerleaders requested that the district bring back the varsity cheerleading team. Head coach Alicia Raynor said the district had about 70 students who were interested. 

Repairs to the buildings’ infrastructure are also on the docket, including pipe replacement and HVAC work at Melissa Jones Elementary, improving the district’s Wi-Fi infrastructure and improving cell service at the middle schools. 

The Board of Education will hold public hearings on Jan. 22 and Jan. 23 to get feedback from residents before its vote on Feb. 5.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.