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by Jessica Brophy
In mid-March, the Deer Isle-Stonington school board reviewed a first draft of the 2012-13 school budget. Four public forums and many hours of conversation later, the board offered direction to administrators and Superintendent Bob Webster for a second draft on Thursday, April 12. The second draft will be brought before the board on April 25 or May 1, depending on whether the board feels the second draft has changed substantively.
In a straw poll at the end of the fourth public forum on April 12, the board directed the superintendent and administrators to come back with a second draft, which includes funding for coach and extra-curricular stipends, $30,000 for technology reserve and $30,000 for a reserve account for repairs needed to the soffits and siding at the high school. Funding for a potential girls’ JV basketball team at a cost of around $5,000 will also be included.
Earlier this year, the school board requested administrators to bring a flat draft budget to the board. The administrators did, but keeping a budget total flat means trimming costs, as many expenses rise yearly, such as contractual salaries, health care, heating oil and maintenance costs.
Recent changes in state law, including the repeal of a penalty for not consolidating schools and an adjustment to the state’s Essential Programs and Services, means the state subsidy to the schools will increase approximately $165,000 to $534,414, up from $369,000 for 2011-12. This increased state subsidy could be used to lower the local share (raised from property taxes) by $143,000 or offset some of the cutbacks in the first draft budget. The board decided to use those funds to offset the cutbacks.
One of the cuts in the draft budget included eliminating all stipends at the elementary and high school level for coaching sports teams, chess teams, or other extra-curricular activities, at a savings of approximately $63,000. However, the stipends are part of the teachers’ contracts and must be funded, said the board on March 22.
Between that figure, and the $65,000 for reserve funds and the JV girl’s basketball team outlined above, less than $20,000 of the $143,000 figure remains unspent. In an informal vote, the board asked the administration to bring a second draft of the budget, with those changes, and any others based on public input over the past month, so long as the changes did not increase the budget beyond the $143,000.
This means that if the second budget is created as directed by the school board, and passed without changes by townspeople at the June budget meeting, the local share for the 2012-13 budget will remain the same as for this year’s budget; that is, taxes will not increase based on school budget costs.
Topics for the fourth and final public forum included housing the high school’s music program at the elementary school, special education and maintenance projects.
Special Services Director Josh Nichols shared with the board the overview of the state of special education in the district. Currently, 93 students—62 at the elementary school and 31 at the high school—are identified as having special needs. This represents 25 percent of the school system’s 360 students. Approximately half of those students are diagnosed with a learning disability. Other disabilities include autism, deafness, and health and speech/language impairments.
In the elementary school, there are three full-time special education teachers, a teacher of the deaf, 11 ed. techs., two one-on-one ed. techs. and one full-time social worker/counselor. Next year, a full-time occupational therapist and a full-time speech therapist, with some time shared with the high school, will be needed. Currently, those services are contracted out. At the high school, there is the full-time equivalent of 1.25 teachers and four ed techs.
Greenlaw asked Nichols if everything is being done to insure students are being mainstreamed in the “least restrictive environment possible.” Nichols said his vision is to concentrate intensive, one-on-one services on students when they are youngest, gradually reducing those services and moving them into the regular classroom.
There was some discussion about the burden of testing-time placed on special education teachers, taking teachers out of the classroom and requiring the hiring of substitutes. There was some discussion about considering a Union 76-wide part-time tester.
During the first budget forum meeting on March 22, the board asked whether the outbuilding called the “White House” could be used only for unheated storage. Currently, the building is used for half storage with the high school band practicing in the other half, which is heated with electric heat during the winter months.
Band teacher Eileen York said her primary concern with the high school students holding band class at the elementary school was a matter of time. York said she spoke with West about options for high school band students to start the school day at the elementary school rather than at the high school to preserve the full class time. Eileen York said many high school students expressed reservations about “going back” to the elementary school, even for that one class. The possibility of the high school band practicing on the school stage was also raised.
The board then discussed major maintenance and facilities projects. An oil-fired hot water heater needed at the elementary school will set the district back $32,000, but even larger projects loom on the horizon.
At the high school, the soffits and siding are showing signs of wear and tear. An estimate from a few years ago puts the whole project at about $150,000, which would create a “maintenance free” update to the current system. This means wood would be replaced with some sort of engineered product not susceptible to weather and with no need of painting.
Board member Skip Greenlaw said he thought it would be worthwhile to get an architect or structural engineer in to assess the current schematics before spending such a large sum on a project. “When you have a project this size, you want to make sure we’re doing what’s best,” said Greenlaw.