New high school graduation requirements and a public hearing on a proposed nearly 6 percent increase in school funding are on the agenda for the Monday, Feb. 11 Board of Education meeting.
The changes being made to the graduation requirements are needed to keep in line with revised guidelines from the state Board of Education and will apply to the incoming freshman class.
Principal Eileen Eustis said Berlin High School already exceeds some of the new requirements, such as the number of credits needed being raised from 20 to 25. Berlin currently requires 27 credits to graduate. “I think Berlin did a really good job of trying to get ahead of it,” she said.
The largest change students would see under the revisions the Berlin school board is considering is greater flexibility in taking courses to meet categories of classes called clusters.
For instance, computer classes count towards the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math cluster, meaning students who wish to take a computer course can check off more boxes toward graduation than before.
“We tried to open up opportunities for students to personalize their schedules,” Eustis said.
Students would now be required to take at least one world languages course, although Eustis said over 80 percent of students already opt to take such classes without it currently being prescribed.
Superintendent Brian Benigni said the main difficulty with adjusting to the new requirements will be ensuring that there are enough seats available in the classes students might want to take.
The board will also be considering Benigni’s proposed school budget, which includes a nearly 6 percent, or $2.6 million, increase in school funding.
The increase is largely due to rising employee salaries and benefits following contract negotiations and the reinstatement of some positions eliminated from last year’s budget. Benigni pointed out that sum alone amounts to more than the average increase in funding for recent years, at 3.62 percent of this year’s total school budget compared to an average of 1.4 percent budget increases over recent years.
Benigni said the compensation increase is in line with what other municipalities in Hartford County are paying, which is important to ensure that the district retains quality educators.
Another $550,000 line item increase was for tuition, driven by a higher-than-usual number of special education students going to out-of-district schools, which Berlin covers the cost of.
The cost of contracted services also rose around $350,000 largely due to the Effective School Solutions program being funded outright. The program provides services to students who are chronically absent from school and saw parents and students come to budget hearings last year to support retaining.
In this year’s budget, ESS was funded using money rolled over from the 2018 fiscal year budget which was saved from positions left unfilled, keeping it out of the operation budget.