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by Colin Powell
Before the school board could approve next year’s budget with a sharp decrease in funding, a number of parents took the opportunity at the beginning of a May 19 CSD meeting to comment on the loss of two teaching positions in the elementary school.
Despite pleas from parents to continue funding certain positions, the CSD board members stuck to their proposed budget, eliminating the positions and ultimately passing a budget of $6,329,612. The proposed budget is down $126,160, or 2 percent, over the previous year’s budget of $6,455,773.
One parent argued that her daughter benefits greatly from having only 11 students in her class, yet still has her learning disrupted by other students. She said she “can’t imagine,” what it will be like in a class of 23. “It will be a big mess for her,” said the parent.
Another parent testified that her son, going into fourth grade, is very intelligent, but needs attention to keep him on task. “Put him in a classroom with 18 [kids] and he will get lost,” she said.
Board chairman Mark Cormier stated to the parents that the board and community have already spent close to five hours on the issue of decreasing staffing at the elementary school and high school. He also noted that the budget would most likely be approved at the current meeting, because it has to be ready for the public budget hearing on Thursday, June 9, and invited them to make their opinions known then.
Board member Skip Greenlaw added that the public can propose changing individual line items, which the public would have to approve, at the public hearing. He encouraged them to ask Superintendent Bob Webster what amount would be needed and where to add a position back in and to propose that amount in an amendment at the June 9 meeting.
Before leaving the comment section of the meeting, a third parent expressed frustration that concerned parents with kids in the classes being combined are not being heard by the board. “I feel my daughter is important enough to be heard,” she said. She argued, like the other parents, that her daughter will have difficulty with a larger class size next year and urged the board not to “experiment” with reducing staff on an entire class of students.
But another parent, whose child is also in one of the two grades being combined next year, had a different perspective. Amy Larrabee, who served on the school board two years ago, said her daughter is in a very small classroom right now, and said she believes the smaller class sizes are actually more difficult to teach. She said larger class sizes could allow teachers to do different types of projects and would encourage students to figure out ways to do things on their own or with their peers. “A class size of 23 is not actually that large,” said Larrabee.
Board member Linda Nelson agreed with Larrabee, and said that while she hopes everyone feels heard and that the board takes concerns from parents seriously, she has her own concerns about hearing that students are incapable of working in a group of 20 students.
“I feel it will be really important for kids to be able do that,” said Nelson. “How are we working with kids so they can work in larger groups?”
She argued that eventually the kids will need to learn skills to keep focused in large groups, and said, “It starts right now, when they’re really little.”
After the discussion, the board passed the 2011-12 school budget in its third draft with unanimous approval. It meets a board goal of keeping taxpayer increases to a minimum.
Among the cuts that remained after the discussion between the board and the public are a reduction of two teaching positions in grades two and four and a tech integrator position at the elementary school, saving about $112,800. At the high school, the business and technology teaching position has been eliminated and the librarian position is being reduced to half-time, amounting to $100,250 in savings. A number of support positions at the high school, including a special education educational technician and a one-quarter time special education instructor position, have been eliminated as well, adding $54,900 to the reductions.
The board has also cut the school district’s portion of the Reach Performing Arts Center director’s salary, amounting to a $25,650 reduction.
In addition to cuts from last year’s budget, a number of new positions proposed for this year will not be added, including foreign language, music and art teachers in the elementary school and a Learning Center coordinator in the high school.
At the board’s last public work session on this budget, members voted to restore $110,000 to the draft budget, the amount of the state’s subsidy penalty imposed for voting not to consolidate in 2007. Board member Andrew Vaughn argued that voters had made their choice not to consolidate with full knowledge that the state would penalize them. The $110,000 restoration has allowed the board to keep a middle level reading assistant position in the budget, as well as funds for high school building maintenance.
The budget, in its first draft, would have meant a 10 percent increase to local property tax payers because of declining revenue from the state and other sources, and roughly a 6 percent increase overall on the current 2010-11 budget. The school board asked the administration to create a budget with a zero percent increase in local property tax funding, which would result in a 4 percent decrease overall. In the end, with the subsidy penalty back in, the budget that the public will vote on in June will be 2 percent lower than the current year, with about a 2 percent increase to taxpayers.
In other business at the board’s special meeting on May 19, the board unanimously approved teachers Josh Frost and Linda Weed for second-year probationary contracts. Webster also announced resignations submitted by music teacher Crystal Kendzia and educational technician Tracey Martin, both of whom are going back to school.
The board will meet next on Tuesday, June 7, at 6 p.m. for a regular meeting at the elementary school. Voters will get their chance to vote on the school budget at the CSD 13 public budget hearing on Thursday, June 9, at the high school.