News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 9, 2014
Brooksville School Board chews over staff, program cuts in 2014-15 school budget
Upcoming legal fees projected at $30,000

by Anne Berleant

When a first budget draft in early December showed a 3.91 percent or $68,170 increase for 2014-15, school board members asked Superintendent Mark Hurvitt to come back with recommendations to reduce staff.

At the January 5 meeting, Hurvitt proposed program and staff cuts in a second draft that lowers the overall increase to 1.97 percent or $34,306 for a total budget of $1,777,626.

“This would mean some casualties,” Hurvitt said.

At the same time, the budget line for legal services was increased from $5,000 to $30,000 to cover projected fees related to an ongoing dispute brought against the board by Maine Education Association on behalf of Laura Johns, whose contract was not continued last year amid questions that the board did not follow policy pertaining to parent complaints. The school already has spent over $10,000 this year on legal fees.

“That [$30,000] will be something that will come up again,” said Hurvitt in a follow up phone call.

The proposed budget draft eliminates library and foreign language programs and one full- and one part-time ed. tech. position, and relies on hiring a permanent teaching principal who would also handle RTI (Response to Intervention) administrative tasks. First-year teacher Brian Adams’ position would be cut. He currently covers French and the grades 7/8 English and social studies, at a salary of $43,000. Also on the chopping block is the 20 hour librarian and 15 hour ed. tech. position held by Rick Alexander. One full-time special education ed. tech. position rounds out the proposed cuts.

Art teacher and community member Becky Poole asked whether the board and superintendent would follow Policy 4700, Staff Involvement in Decision Making, in deciding on the program and staff cuts.

“I’m concerned there was no discussion from staff to factor into your discussion,” she said.

Policy 4700 states that “The Superintendent shall ensure that there is a process in place to encourage meaningful professional staff input prior to making recommendations regarding curriculum, instruction and the school program to the School Committee.”

“[The budget process] has gone this way for 10 to 12 years,” said Chairman Charles Tarr.

Hurvitt compared the current instructional programs and teacher-student ratio to Union 93 schools of comparative size. Brooksville, he said, has the lowest student-teacher ratio “by far.”

“All Union 93 schools have addressed this in the past 10 years,” he said, with staff and program cuts, except for Blue Hill (whose current enrollment is well over 200 students).

Surry and Penobscot currently have no foreign language program and make do with library techs. one or two days a week; Castine has no library program at all.

“We won’t be able to provide what we provide now,” Hurvitt said. “With 55 kids, it’s a trade off.”

Most school board members, however, balked at cutting the foreign language program, and in a follow up call, Hurvitt said he would return the two-day-per-week program to the budget’s third draft.

“What some towns view as frills are really not,” said Tarr.

Board member Brad Jones provided a different perspective. “I hate to see the foreign language go, but we’ve definitely got to trim this budget some. The townspeople are up in arms, have been for years.”

Three special budget meetings are scheduled for January. “We have much more work to do on this,” Hurvitt concluded.

In other business, the first step to forming a principal search committee is choosing two board members, two teachers and two community members, the board decided. Hurvitt and Interim Principal Denis Howard will also serve on the committee. The community members will be “picked out of a hat, with witnesses,” from the eight who have volunteered, said Hurvitt. The committee will determine the structure of the principal position, develop a job description, decide when to advertise and interview candidates.

“The future of this school depends on having strong leadership,” said community member and prospective committee member Kathleen Caldwell, who urged the board to not “nickel and dime the principal [position] to death,” but to advertise a position that will “attract strong candidates.”

Finally, school cook Susanne Dodge, who coordinated the holiday dinner, cake walk and silent auction, reported that nearly $2,700 was raised to be used toward purchasing a front-door security system. The total cost of the system is estimated at $3,000. The board granted permission for a community breakfast to complete the purchase and to raise funds for summer campership scholarships for Brooksville students.

Dodge also thanked the board members and Hurvitt for being part of “a great group of people coming forth to help” with the holiday event.

Upcoming meetings:

Brooksville School Board: Special budget meetings Thursday, January 9, 7 p.m.; Tuesday, January 21, 4 p.m.; Monday, January 27, 7 p.m.; regular meeting, Monday, February 3, 5 p.m., at school.