DARIEN — Parents, town officials and school board members met on a snowy Saturday as part of an all-day marathon discussion of the school budget for the upcoming school year.

Superintendent Dan Brenner is proposing a $95.8 million budget, up almost $2 million from the current spending plan.

Most of the 2.08 percent increase stems from $1.8 million in contractual salary increases for teachers across the district. Under the proposed spending plan, teachers would be compensated for travel for professional development.

In addition to raising salaries for teachers, the district seeks to add guidance counselors and psychologists at the middle and high schools. The proposal would add one part-time counselor at the middle school and one part-time at the high school, as well as a part-time psychologist at the high school. There are currently two full-time psychologists at the high school and one part-time psychologist.

Shelley Somers, the principal of Middlesex Middle School, said a part-time counselor would improve caseload distribution.

“With an increased use of social media, we’re finding problems arise, and students go to their guidance counselors for (help with) social situations,” she said.

“There’s a lot of stress in middle school,” Somers said. “We’re in a driven community, and expectations are very high.”

Over at the high school, an increase in enrollment, plus an increasingly complex college application process, calls for additional guidance for students, said Darien High School Principal Ellen Dunn.

“It’s not a meeting, applying for college and then coming back with results,” said Dunn, who said students often need long-term support to deal with the process.

Darien High School has seven school counselors who handle a caseload of around 192 students each. A part-time counselor would bring the average caseload down to 178.

In addition to adding support staff, the district is wants to add department chairs for the middle and high schools. The chairs would replace curriculum monitors and coordinators and would increase articulation for the curriculum between the two schools, the superintendent said.

“If you want to impact instruction, you’re better off having content experts supervising content instruction,” Brenner said.

The district also wants to add a second athletic trainer. The second trainer would be a full-time employee working to assist the trainer already on staff, providing what Brenner called, “a heightening of services to student athletes.” His or her hours would shift pending practices and events.

The district is also looking to add a rugby coach and cut a junior varsity softball coach due to lack of interest. This would account for an $8,000 increase.

Parents at the meeting expressed concerns over the disparity in funding in different sports. Parents of students on the hockey, skiing, squash and sailing teams pay for team funding. The percentage of contribution differs, from the sailing team paying $375 for a yearly reserve for new boats to the hockey team parents paying $1,025, which foots 75 percent of the team bill.

The concerns translated over to uniforms, as parents shared stories of used uniforms being passed down to students without being cleaned and students having uniform shorts fall off because the elastic waistband was worn out.

The board provided parents with the three-year cycle used for uniform replacement, but said it would research the history of funding and not funding certain teams.

Additional proposed budget expenses include increasing support for technology initiatives like the one-to-one program at the middle school and elementary schools, where each student will get a Chromebook. IPads will be introduced at the high school and replacement of first-generation Smartboards is set to begin. An additional $30,000 is embedded in the 2017-18 budget for the proposed cost of opening an alternative high school in town.

As part of the $95,802,809 budget, the school board seeks to move forward with a proposed expansion to the Darien High School cafeteria, as well as other capital expense items to help maintain school facilities.


ct.com; @erin_kayata