News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 22, 2012
Board takes first pass at DIS CSD draft budget: total flat, local share down $143K

Deer Isle-Stonington CSD Archive
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by Jessica Brophy

Superintendent Robert Webster unveiled the first draft of the 2012-13 CSD budget to 20 community members at a budget workshop March 15.

The school board had requested that administrators—Webster, high school Principal Todd West and elementary school Principal Mike Benjamin—bring a flat budget to the table for discussion.

Draft 1 of the budget comes in at $6,329,418—$190 less than the current budget. Due to projected increases in state subsidy, however, the share to be raised by local taxes would decrease by $143,806 if this budget is passed.

Keeping the budget flat does not come without some sacrifices, said West and Benjamin, because many costs rise yearly, such as contractual salaries, health care, heating oil and maintenance.

One of the major cuts includes eliminating all elementary and high school stipends for coaching sports teams, chess teams, or other extracurricular activities, at a savings of approximately $63,000. Athletic directors, sports transportation and other costs associated with extracurricular activities would continue to be funded.

Board member Virginia Olsen said she has some concerns about asking a coach to volunteer. “They work a lot of hours to coach,” she said.

Elementary school budget changes

At the elementary school, the gifted and talented program position would be cut from four days per week to two and a half days.

Several parents of current second graders were on hand to find out whether next year’s third grade would be split into two classes, or be one class, as the second grade is this year. Kindergarten through fourth grade will have two classes for each grade, with one fifth grade class and four teachers for the middle school grades 6-8. One teacher from the middle school will be moved to one of the first or second grade class openings, said Benjamin. This will mean the loss of a reading specialist in the middle school as well.

Parent Becca Emerson said she thought it was “unfortunate” to cut a fifth grade teacher, and to pursue a “zero increase.”

Other changes at the elementary school include an increase to the art teacher position from four days per week to full time, an increase for Camp Kieve funds due to a large seventh grade class, and an increase in budget funds for reading and math program computer software.

A major expense increase for the elementary school is $35,600 to replace a leaking hot water heater.

High school budget changes

The budget eliminates the part-time certified librarian position and replaces the position with a part-time library aide for a savings of approximately $15,000.

Literacy teacher Judith Hotchkiss said she was “very concerned” about cutting the librarian position.

Funding for summer curriculum development and to establish a “summer learning center” to support students needing help in English, math, science and social studies remained intact. West did have to gut two other program initiatives he had built into the budget before the board requested a flat budget.

The first was a plan to reorganize and revamp the Marine Trades program into a “Skippers Program” as the first step in creating a “maritime pathway” at the high school, said West’s budget cover memo. The estimated cost of that program would be $18,570.

West also scrapped a request for $30,000 to begin replacing the aging school netbooks (small laptops). West said spreading out the cost over multiple years would avoid a $75,000 to $150,000 replacement cost in one year.

Board member Vicki Zelnick expressed concern over an $11,500 line item to fix the walkway and ramp from the high school to the building in the back called the White House. “That seems like a lot of money for a walkway,” said Zelnick. The building is currently used for storage and for band practice. Zelnick recommended weighing the worth of keeping that building, as it is not in great shape and is heated with electricity. A member of the audience asked why the band couldn’t practice on the stage in the gym; West responded that it was difficult to practice during PE classes and health classes, both taught in the gym. Zelnick suggested moving the high school band program to the elementary school, as the walk isn’t far, and the elementary school has better facilities.

The idea of cooking all food for both schools at one kitchen (likely the newer elementary school kitchen) was raised and will be considered at a later budget meeting.

A few retirements at the high school level mean some budgetary relief, as salaries for replacement teachers are budgeted to be lower.

Philosophical differences among board members

Newly elected board member Stephen York expressed strong misgivings about the budget as presented.

“I get confused with the mixed messages,” said York. “The strategic plan focuses on literacy, but we are going to cut a librarian?”

York forcefully denounced the decision to have the administrators bring a flat budget to the table. “I think we need to change the verb from spend to invest,” he said. “I don’t care what the rest of the state is doing, I care what we do here.” York said he thought the voters should have the opportunity to choose, without “getting snookered” into a flat budget.

Board members Olsen, Mark Cormier, Linda Nelson and Zelnick responded to York’s characterization of the board’s request for a flat budget. “We do give the public a chance at every meeting to speak,” said Olsen. “To say people don’t have a chance to vote is wrong; we do this out in the open and ask for input.”

Cormier said the board is not shooting for the state average in per-pupil cost, and noted that the flat budget was a place to start.

Nelson said her philosophy as a board member was to make sure the schools are sustainable and affordable. “We have been asked by public officials to keep the tax burden down,” she said.

Zelnick said there were certainly concerns she had with the budget as it stood, including the cut of extracurricular stipends and the lack of money built in for maintenance.

York said he was not suggesting the budget process wasn’t public, but that he opposed the flat budget. “A minority voice is an important part of democracy,” he said.

Parent Deena Staples asked what the next steps were for the budget, which will continue to be discussed weekly for the next three weeks. “Do I need to have my butt in this seat at every meeting to make sure my student will have two classes?” she asked. The board did not indicate any plans to combine the third grade classes.

The board will hold another budget session on Thursday, March 22, at 5 p.m. at the elementary school library. On the agenda will be the middle school reading position, the grade five teaching position, and the cut to extracurricular coaching stipends. On Thursday, March 29, at 5 p.m. at the elementary school library, the agenda will include the high school library position, the gifted/talented position, technology and the possible relocation of the high school music program to the elementary school. On Thursday, April 12, at 5 p.m. at the elementary school library, the agenda will include special education, consolidation of food service operations and building maintenance projects.

The school board will meet Tuesday, April 3, at 5 p.m. at the elementary school for its regular monthly meeting.