After more than six months of public meetings, budget forums and decision making between school administration and Community School District board members, 67 Deer Isle and Stonington residents amended the school board’s 2012-13 recommended budget to include an additional $147,000 at the budget district meeting on Thursday, June 7.
In an Island-wide validation referendum held on June 12, this amended budget passed 209-91 in Deer Isle, and 106-44 in Stonington.
The total 2012-13 school budget as passed and validated is $6,612,480—a 4.47 percent or $282,871 increase over this year’s $6,329,609 budget. Local taxpayer costs will increase by $139,478 over this year’s budget.
The school board will still need to decide what to do with the additional funds, as residents can call for dollar amount amendments to the budget, but the school board makes decisions on how funds are spent. The school board will discuss this matter at a meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 14, at 5 p.m. at the elementary school.
At the district meeting, former school board member Andy Vaughn moved to amend the article for K-12 regular instruction of the budget warrant to include an additional $129,000. Vaughn recommended the additional funds be used to have two fifth-grade classrooms next year, a middle level literacy teacher, and the gifted/talented teaching position kept at four days per week. The school board’s proposed budget had only one fifth-grade classroom of 24 students for 2012-13, eliminated the current middle level literacy teacher, and reduced the gifted and talented teaching position from four days per week to two and a half days per week.
After a lengthy discussion for and against the amendment, the amendment carried 44-23 in a secret ballot vote.
Vaughn also moved to amend the article for student and staff instructional support to include an additional $18,000. Vaughn suggested the funds be used to retain a half-time high school librarian. The proposed budget had replaced the half-time high school librarian position with a half-time librarian aide.
After discussion concerning whether removing the librarian would impact the high school’s accreditation status, the amendment to add $18,000 carried 46-9 by secret ballot.
The summary warrant articles dictating total budget numbers were amended to reflect these additions totaling $147,000 and approved 34-8 by secret ballot.
Amendment discussions at budget district meeting
After Vaughn amended the K-12 instruction amendment, several residents spoke for and against the $129,000 addition.
Michael Warr, who identified himself as father of last year’s valedictorian, said he thought keeping the budget flat “is encouraging mediocrity.”
Parent Jeremiah Savage said he was for reinstating the gifted and talented position from 2.5 days per week to four days. “As a parent of a son in the gifted and talented program, this is a large part of what makes school good for him, it keeps him interested,” said Savage.
Doug Johnson defended the recommendations of the school board and urged residents to vote against the amendment. “I think every one of us can think of some way to put money into this budget to make a meaningful impact on a student,” said Johnson. “But this school system is persistently one of the most expensive in the state. The taxpayers have been extremely generous, and the reality is setting in that we have declining school enrollment.”
School board chairman Mark Cormier stood to remind the crowd that the suggested budget was not a cut, and was an increase of approximately $137,000, or a little more than 2 percent.
Board member Linda Nelson encouraged those present to think about school improvement as not about spending more money, but about doing things differently.
Board member Stephen York spoke in favor of the amendment, noting that the school board had been split on earlier decisions on whether to amend the budget to include these funds.
Mary Penfold noted that the above-average per pupil costs in the school district were due to above-average facilities and administrative costs, not above-average regular instruction costs. “I don’t know why that is where we are cutting,” she said.
The body of the meeting then voted to allow Superintendent Robert Webster to speak. “We held seven public meetings during this budget process,” he said. “We worked very hard to balance the needs of a majority of students and the needs of taxpayers.”
On the second amendment, to add enough funds to have a half-time librarian rather than a half-time library aide, was less contentious. Jim Adams asked if replacing a certified librarian with a library aide would hurt the school’s accreditation status. Principal Todd West said that it may be taken into consideration by the accreditation board and may lead to problems with accreditation, but the accrediting body would give plenty of notice to the school if it were a problem.
School board member Virginia Olsen said the state’s Essential Programs and Services model sets the ratio of one librarian for every 750 students. The elementary school has its own librarian.
Karen Atwell said she supported having a certified librarian to help students learn to use a library. “My eighth-grade daughter is already looking at colleges,” said Atwell, who noted that one college her daughter considered had a library with five floors. “If she doesn’t learn how to use books, it will cripple her ability to be competitive.”