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No changes at school district deliberative session

February 07, 2017
ALTON — The Alton School District Deliberative Session on Saturday, Feb. 4, brought some discussion but no changes to the warrant articles as they were written.

Voters will now get a say on the articles during town and school district elections in March.

The meeting began with Superintendent Pamela Stiles of the Alton School District and Superintendent Robert Cullison of Prospect Mountain High School giving updates on their respective schools.

Stiles touted the work being done, not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom at Alton Central.

"There's learning outside the classroom as well," she said. "And extended learning time is available for those who want to take part.

"Parents have a lot to be proud of," Stiles continued. "ACS students are kind, talented and respectful.

"And our teachers are committed to providing the best education possible for all students," she noted, while also noting that an Alton Central School app was also in development.

"I want to thank the community for the support of Prospect Mountain High School," Cullison noted, touting the roof project approved last year as a huge step forward. He noted the project was mostly completed, with just a few small sections to complete.

He also touted real world experience as part of the learning environment at the high school.

Additionally, he noted that 79 of 128 seniors had already been accepted into college, military or a career training program.

"And we expect many more," he continued. "We're proud of our students' successes."

Getting down to the business of the day, the first article was to elect new officials, which will take place on March 14.

Article two set the salaries of the school board and other officers of the district, including the moderator, treasurer and clerk. There was no discussion.

Article three was the operating budget, which was set at $4,176,004 and recommended by the school board (5-0) and the budget committee (5-2).

Alton School Board Chairman Steve Miller spoke to the article, noting that the budget was down from last year, with Prospect Mountain down $191,335 and Alton Central down $869,314, moving the tax rate from $6.66 to $5.99.

"That's the second drop in the school rate in the last two years," Miller said. "That's due to declining enrollment, but we don't' spend money we don't need, we return it to the taxpayers."

He noted that the roof on the high school was paid off in a year and the addition to Alton Central was being paid off in two years, which was saving the taxpayers money on bond issues.

Resident Jeffrey Clay asked if student performance had been enhanced and Miller said they were still waiting for test results, which come at the end of the year.

Resident Carol Locke asked about cuts to the special education department and Miller said it was due to declining enrollment.

Resident Andy McLeod questioned the legal action that has been going on between the board and the Prospect Mountain High School Teachers' Association, questioning whether the money in the budget was enough to cover these actions and wondering what the overall cost to taxpayers might be.

Miller clarified that it was not a lawsuit, but rather a disagreement with the union on the interpretation of the contract.

"We believe that our position has significant merit," Miller said. "We've been advised by legal that we should have good standing."

Clay returned to the microphone to ask the budget committee, why, with declining enrollment, was the addition to Alton Central completed.

Budget committee member Dave Hershey noted that it was something that was needed at the time.

"It's our understanding that at the time the vote was taken, there was a need," Hershey said.

"That vote was taken three years ago, it doesn't apply to today," said chairman Roger Nelson.

Resident Kristi Hikel noted that the purpose of the addition was to replace modular buildings.

"The kids are inside, in a more secure place, inside the building," she noted.

With no further discussion, the operating budget was moved to the ballot.

Article four is the three-year collective bargaining agreement reached between the school board and the Alton Teachers' Association. The estimated increases will be $130,008 for 2017-2018, $105,924 for 2018-2019 and $71,938 for 2019-2020.

Miller noted that usually in a collective bargaining situation, someone leaves the table with a bad taste in their mouth but he did not think that was the case this time.

"There's no buyers' remorse," he stated. "It's a quintessential win-win for both sides."

Clay disagreed, stating he did feel remorse and then began a long list of issues that he found with the agreement, things he believed did not protect the taxpayer. He discussed pro-rated part time pay, shortened lunch periods, extra pay for covering for other teachers and other issues and also noted that he believed that between vacation time, sick time and other days out of school, the 28 days out of school was too much.

Hikel again came to the microphone and noted that she thought the instructional hours begin a little too early, citing kids would be in school for longer days.

"I support and believe in the teachers and I believe it's a good contract," she said. "I'm just not pleased with the start time."

Locke returned to the microphone and stated that there really is no free time for a teacher and if a teacher gives up his or her planning period to cover for another teacher, they should be paid for it, as noted in the contract.

Clay continued his list of issues with the contract, discussing union dues, NEA conferences and more before it was noted from the audience that the deliberative session was not the place to discuss the details of the contract, since it had already been approved by the board and teachers.

Anna Ransom wondered how the number of seat hours fit in the required time by the state and Miller noted that ACS was within the parameters.

With no further discussion, article four was moved on to the ballot.

Article five is simply to schedule a special meeting, should article four not pass and this was moved to the ballot.

Article six is to add to the existing security and safety expandable trust fund in the amount of $65,000, to be used for asbestos removal and abatement.

"There's still the possibility of asbestos and it needs to be removed," said school board member Peter Leavitt in speaking to the article. The article received no discussion and was moved to the ballot.

Article seven was to add $20,000 to the existing Alton Professional Development Fund to reimburse staff for the cost of professional development opportunities. There was no discussion and it was moved to the ballot.

Article eight is to add $70,000 to the existing boiler capital reserve fund for the purpose of repairing/replacing water heaters, boilers or ventilation systems.

Miller noted that the system was nearing replacement time and the board had agreed to start this fund in order to make money available for a replacement or repair if necessary.

"When we have to replace it, we can do so or we can make repairs as needed," Miller stated.

Nelson left his spot as a budget committee member to speak as a citizen and pointed to a few different funds with money already in them and wondered why they couldn't be used for this purpose.

"We can't spend that money for that, it has a particular purpose," he said.

With no further discussion, the article was moved on to the ballot.

Article nine was to add $20,000 to the existing PMHS athletic field capital reserve fund, this being contingent on Barnstead approving the same amount. There was no discussion and the article was moved to the ballot.

With that, moderator Robin Lane wrapped up the deliberative session in less than an hour and a half.

Voting will take place on Tuesday, March 14, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will take place in a new location, at St. Katharine Drexel Parish on Hidden Spring Road.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or sportsgsn@salmonpress.com.

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