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Board approves $9.7 million preliminary budget

October 27, 2009
ALTON — Following a final look at the Alton School District's proposed operating budget for the 2011 fiscal year, school board members voted Monday night to approve a preliminary grand total of $9,743,457.

Pointing out that the total approved by the board did not include Alton's share of the operating budget for Prospect Mountain High School, Superintendent Kathy Holt said the bottom line figure represented an increase of roughly 2.2 percent over last year's elementary school budget.

Much of that increase, she added, stemmed from rising costs for health insurance and transportation.

The board's final review of the proposed budget (which they had discussed in-depth during a series of work sessions prior to Monday night's meeting) centered primarily on the Technology portion, and Holt's decision to cut $6,400 out of the computer replacement line in an attempt to keep the request level-funded.

Technology Director Pam McLeod explained that she had originally budgeted for eight replacement PC work stations (totaling $6,400) and 20 thin client laptops for classroom use (a request that Holt also level-funded by cutting $7,150) in an effort to keep the replacement schedule on-track.

At the urging of board member Maureen Smith, McLeod said that teachers use computers daily to check their e-mail, create slide shows, post homework assignments and grades on their respective Web sites, and integrate technology into the classroom, giving students an opportunity to enhance the digital portfolios the state Department of Education requires them to have by the time they enter high school.

Board Vice Chair Jeff St. Cyr (who was unable to attend the meeting, but listened in on the budget discussion via speakerphone) suggested that the board meet McLeod halfway by adding four of the PCs she requested (a total of $3,200) back into the budget.

St. Cyr's motion passed, bringing the total Technology budget up to $221,114.

The board also voted Monday night to add $4,206 to the proposed Special Education budget in order to proved para-educators with an extra day of workshops, and added another $5,063 for the purpose of bringing in a certified ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher 18 hours a week at a rate of $30 per hour.

The bottom line for Special Education was set at $1,715,855.

A total of $8,147 was added to the Building Maintenance budget — $3,147 for the purpose of replacing the refrigerator in the Family and Consumer Science room, several chalk boards, and the shelving in the music room, and $5,000 for the installation of a new window in the Speech Therapy room, a converted closet that has only one door and no windows or secondary exits, placing it in violation of current fire codes.

While she hoped it would not be necessary to use the full $5,000, Holt explained that the installation could be costlier than district officials originally thought, since it will entail drilling through cinderblock and brick in order to create an opening.

The total for Building Maintenance was set at $853,122, a figure that drew startled reactions from some audience members.

Board member Sandy Wyatt explained that the bottom line for maintenance included salaries, heating oil, electrical upgrades, repairs, and snow plowing.

The remaining budget totals were as follows:

-Regular Education — $3,284,397

-Extended Year Program (an off-shoot of Special Education) — $48,113

-Enrichment — $117,921

-Co-curricular Activities — $24,062

-Athletics — $49,200

-Summer School — $15,200

-Guidance — $238,171

-Health Services — $87,274

-Speech — $104,535

-Improvement of Instruction — $90,873

-Library — $109,754

-School Board — $53,810

-SAU — $206,924

-Principal's Office — $325,428

-Business Services — $121,379

-Regular Transportation — $378,315

-Special Education Transportation — $224,678

-Athletic Transportation — $14,750

-Field trip transportation — $26,280

-Food Services — $247,077

-Debt Service (payment on the high school bond) — $1,080,068.

Joint middle school proposal draws skepticism

Following the final vote on the budget, St. Cyr asked the remaining board members for their thoughts on a proposed high school Warrant article that would ask voters to create a special committee to study the feasibility of partnering with Barnstead on a joint middle school.

Board Chairwoman Terri Noyes said she would be hesitant to support the article without discussing it with the board's Buildings and Grounds Committee first.

Given the fact that the high school was built in Alton, Wyatt felt that voters in Barnstead might push for a middle school to be built on land their school district owns on Hannah Nutter Road.

Stating that she would hesitate to send Alton's sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders that far out of town every day, Wyatt said she also agreed with the Buildings and Grounds Committee's philosophy that it would be best for Alton to maintain local control over its K-8 school.

Although she personally felt it would be best for Alton to keep its own K-8 school, board member Lynda Goossens said she had no issues with the proposed Warrant article, since it would cost nothing and would allow school officials in both towns to gauge the mood of the community.

Noyes said her primary concern was the possibility that a feasibility study would push the Buildings and Grounds Committee's efforts to address Alton Central's space issues further behind.

St. Cyr, who was also against the idea of a joint middle school, commented that even if the two communities agreed to collaborate on a new school, something would still have to be done at Alton Central.

Smith agreed with Wyatt, stating that it made no sense to her for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders to travel further every day than Alton's high school students.

The board ultimately agreed to ask St. Cyr to halt discussion of the proposed article on the high school Finance Committee until they are able to consult with the Buildings and Grounds Committee.

Contract questions

Resident Steve Parker approached the board during the first of Monday night's public input sessions to raise concerns about provisions in the district's two most recent teacher's contracts which allowed teachers to collect longevity stipends for their years of service.

The 2004-2007 contract, he said, offered teachers with 15 or more years of experience within the district a $500 stipend, while retiring teachers with 20-plus years of full-time experience were offered an $8,000 benefit.

As he understood it, he said, the current contract (which expires in August of 2010) allows teachers to with 15-plus years of experience to collect an annual, non-cumulative stipend of $500, while one-time payments were offered to teachers based on their years of experience during the 2007-08 school year.

"What's all this money?" Parker asked. "It seems to me that we're paying money to satisfy something else [that was removed from the contract]."

Asked by Noyes to state clearly what his question to the board was, Parker said his main concern was "What are these bonuses all about?"

He said he had also heard that someone had misinterpreted the language surrounding the annual $500 stipends included in the current contract, leading to a situation where the stipends were paid out cumulatively.

Without having copies of the two contracts in front of her, Noyes said she could only guess that the language changes Parker referred to stemmed from the fact that something was re-negotiated.

Addressing Parker's comments about the confusion over stipends, Noyes said the fact that the contract might have been misinterpreted does not necessarily mean it was written incorrectly.

Stating that hw wanted to know how much the district had paid out in longevity bonuses since "day one," Parker also questioned why bonuses and stipends were "lumped in" with salaries in the annual district report, and not listed separately.

Rolling bonuses in with regular salaries, he said, makes it "confusing" for taxpayers trying to find out who earned what during a given school year.

Asked by Parker whether the district makes copies of complete teacher's contracts available to the public once they have been finalized, Noyes replied that copies are available at the SAU office and during the annual school district deliberative session.

Parker suggested, however, that district officials make more of an effort to distribute information by placing information about contracts in local newspapers.

"I just think the public should know what these contracts say," he said. "Sometimes, you have to make an effort to get these out."

Odds and ends

In other business, the board approved Holt's request to take home a spare printer at the SAU office for the purpose of printing out official documents; approved Director of Instruction Sydney Leggett's request to initiate a Pennies for Peace fundraiser during the school's Literacy Extravaganza on Nov. 10; and approved a revised academic eligibility policy for winter sports.

Next meeting

The board's next meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 9, at 6 p.m. in the middle school library.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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