Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 6, 2014
Brooksville Town Meeting
Brooksville voters reject adding funds for school, shellfish ordinance
Jones defeats McMillen for school board seat
Voters at the Brooksville annual town meeting on March 4, 2014 raise their cards to vote on funding for the newly adopted shellfish ordinance. They rejected funds for the ordinance which effectively nullifies the new measure.
by Rich Hewitt
Voters at the annual town meeting Tuesday rejected several attempts to add funds to the proposed school budget and also vetoed funding the town’s new shellfish ordinance which had been approved in balloting the day before.
The effort to add funds to the $1.7 million school budget followed what school board members said was an “agonizing” process that resulted in cuts to teaching, support positions and programs. Those reductions have been controversial, and many of the proposed amendments to the school budget articles were designed to reinstate programs and positions.
Kevin Hunt proposed cutting $30,000 from the school budget’s legal account and transferring those funds to the regular education account specifically to reinstate instructional positions.
The $30,000 for legal fees is much higher than the amount the school committee generally budgets, and Superintendent Mark Hurvitt explained that the committee was involved in a legal dispute that would incur some legal expenses.
“The $30,000 is not a scientific figure,” he said. “We are going to need some legal services, but it’s unclear how much.”
He added that it was important to have those funds available and that, if the $30,000 was cut, the school committee would need to take the funds from somewhere else in that budget line.
School committee member Gail Ladd added that while any one had the right to suggest increases to the budget in any area, it was important not to take funds away from other areas.
Committee Chairman Charles Tarr said the instructional services account was not reduced as a result of the increase in legal services.
“We’ve tried very hard to consider our obligation to right-size the staff to the number of students we have,” he said.
Voters rejected Hunt’s amendment to the system administration account and also rejected an amendment from Ralph Chapman who sought to add $16,000 to the contingency account. Chapman argued that the superintendent and the school committee have regularly used a budget freeze to address budget problems during the school year. That, he said, is not a responsible management tool, and most often targets supplies that teachers have planned on.
“It’s a form of taking funds from the kids and putting it where they need it, which is in administration,” he said.
With a larger contingency account, he said, they would have sufficient funds to deal with mid-year problems without freezing spending.
Jen Chase proposed amending the regular instruction budget adding $27,400, the current salary for the 60 percent 7-8 grade language arts and social studies position that had been eliminated. Because of the way the budget lines are formatted, those funds could not be specifically allocated to reinstate the position, but Chase indicated that was her intent. She argued that the plan to combine that teaching post with the principal’s position would be a “heavy workload” for one person.
Chapman added that increasing funding in that account would give the school committee more flexibility in hiring a teaching principal.
Ladd gave a brief history of that position—a post she had held in the past—noting that the separate language arts/social studies position had been created when there were 26 students in the combined seventh and eighth grades. There are now just eight students in that combined grade, and she said she could not justify having two teachers for just eight students.
Ladd added that the school had a long history of teaching principals.
Voters rejected that amendment and also rejected a move to reinstate funding to staff the library three days a week instead of one. Volunteers will provide supervision during the time that a librarian is not in the library.
Voters did approve changes suggested by the school committee, shifting $17,266 from the regular instruction to the special education account to correct a mistake, and adding $12,000 to the special education account to fund services for a new student moving into the district.
With the addition, the total school budget came to $1,801,903.
Voters also rejected funding for the new shellfish ordinance. The warrant article proposed appropriating $15,000 to implement the ordinance which had been approved by a vote of 153-113 on Monday.
Residents were divided on the issue with some arguing that there were sufficient clams in the waters around Brooksville and that the ordinance would not be effective in protecting that resource. One opponent described the measure as a “feel good” ordinance that didn’t really do anything.
Others, however, argued that while some areas had clams, there were many areas where there were no clams at all. The ordinance, they said, might help regenerate clams in those areas. They also suggested the ordinance might help the town to address the problem of green crabs which have been attacking young clams and mussels up and down the coast.
The ordinance established both commercial and recreational licenses for town residents and non-residents. Some opponents were irked by that requirement which imposed the license even for residents who just wanted to dig a mess of clams for dinner.
Several people noted that there was just one commercial digger from Brooksville and that all the other commercial diggers came from other parts of the state. Selectman John Gray suggested that implementing the ordinance with the requested funding would help to rebuild the clam resource so that more local people might be able to make a living digging clams.
Gray acknowledged that if the town did not provide the funding to enforce the ordinance, which included hiring a clam warden, then the state would not accept the town’s ordinance. By rejecting the funding for the ordinance, by a vote of 40-24,voters effectively nullified the measure.
Voters agreed to add $19,000 to help shore up a wall at the fire department. The wall needed to be strengthened before the planned library expansion could be built on it.
In Monday’s referendum vote, residents rejected a proposed ordinance that would have required residents to notify the town when they planned any addition or construction projects on their property. The vote was 129-140 against the article.
In the only contested race, Brad Jones narrowly won a three-year seat on the school committee defeating Michael McMillen by a vote of 138-135.