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$300k back in budget after public contests cuts

February 03, 2010
MEREDITH — Over $300,000 was put back into the Inter-Lakes School District budget at a public hearing, but Sandwich residents will have to voice their concerns at district meeting about moving the sixth grade class to Meredith.

The budget had initially proposed cuts of $1,150,940 across all levels ranked in three categories according to student impact.

District officials said Tuesday's meeting was the second of four opportunities members of the public will have to speak on the budget, the first being the long work session that was held on Martin Luther King Day. The next one will be the School District Budget Hearing on Feb. 5, then district meeting on March 3.

On Tuesday's meeting, School Board members finalized and approved the budget that will go on the district warrant.

The Inter-Lakes Elementary School Library was packed with parents, teachers, and concerned parties. The first two hours of the nearly five-hour meeting saw parents and community members speaking out against various cuts or suggesting other ways money could be saved without a mass effect.

"When it comes to this budget, I give you an F+," said Jeanne Ryer of Sandwich. "I do feel that the cuts have gone too deep, and many areas need to be restored."

Several residents voiced concern with the impact of cutting several athletic activities, class offerings, and other co-curricular activities.

Student Representative Tim Quinney said that with School in Need of Improvement status in place and the upcoming accreditation of the high school, the cuts were "irresponsible."

"They all affect students," Quinney said. "It's a school; your job is to provide for the students."

Quinney also took issue with the 1.25 percent increase number set by the board, which he said seemed pulled out of the air, and the proposal to cut Spanish a year after the district worked hard to put the program in place.

In response to Quinney's comment, Carty said the 1.25 was not pulled out of the air and was voted on by the board as a "best educated guess of what the community would support."

Carty said while most of the people in the meeting were parents, they made up a portion of the overall community that would be voting for the budget.

"The credibility of the School Board in relation to the community," Carty said was an important factor. "We need the support of the whole community to make the system work."

Numerous Sandwich residents were at the meeting voicing opposition to the proposal to cut the sixth grade class, thereby eliminating the teaching position currently held by Amy Chase. The cut carried a cost of $89,730 in salaries and benefits.

"Amy Chase is an excellent teacher," said Lobin Frizzell of Sandwich. "To see her go would be tragic. It isn't just a classroom; we have a community here. Let's look at the bigger impact having to take away the sixth grade. I think you need to give Sandwich its town and its children; that's all we have."

Many parents said sixth graders were role models to the younger students at Sandwich Central School and to lose them would impact the climate of the school.

Board Chair Jack Carty said if a class in third through sixth grade falls under 10 students, the School Board must review the class and speak to administrators about what should be done.

Others expressed concern with what class sizes would look like in the future with sixth grade gone if the population at the school increased.

Carty and board member Howard Cunningham said it would be best if the matter was decided at District Meeting and not put back in the budget by the board then.

Board member Richard Hanson agreed with many parents, saying the move would be a violation of a contract with Sandwich parents regarding class sizes, especially if more students came to the school. It would also be a difficult transition for the Sandwich sixth graders to be put into the Elementary School.

"It's taking a way a little bit of what makes Sandwich Sandwich," Hanson said, saying all matters are brought to District Meeting anyway so they can be voted on. "I think my job as a board member is to try to bring forth a budget that meets the needs of our students."

The motion to keep the sixth grade in Sandwich was defeated four to two with board member Dan Cunningham of Sandwich abstaining due to the fact his daughter was looking forward to sixth grade.

Meredith resident Mark Flanders asked if closing SCS had been considered. Superintendent Phil McCormack said it had been extensively reviewed but not done due to social, political, and financial issues.

Sandwich Central School Principal John Hansen said the decision to go to a multi-age format was a huge transition. Hansen said he respects the decisions made by the board in light of the economic challenges, but Sandwich was losing a lot to the cuts when it already had little.

"Sandwich is paying their fair share, they're paying more than their fair share," Hansen said. "I guess I was hoping that the board could possibly provide some leadership to direct the cooperative district to support the school more at this point in time."

The board did eliminate a proposal to reduce the number of hours of library paraprofessionals at Sandwich Central School. The library is open two days a week and Hansen said a cut in hours would be a large blow to the school. The motion to reinstate the $5,790 was unanimously approved.

Spanish was put back into the Elementary and Middle Tier curriculum at a cost of $88,453. Members of the Board worked to put the program in place in a previous year and the measure to cut 1.2 full time equivalent positions in Spanish was met with protest. Kelley also said a technology component was worked into the curriculum for Spanish and it would be a step backward to get rid of the program.

The program was reinstated with six in favor and board member Carol Baggaley opposed.

The board also put back $157,000 for eight paraprofessionals at the Elementary School and Middle Tier. Special Education Director Chuck DiCecca said there are 25 paraprofessionals who serve as one-on-one assistants to students and the rest are helping out in the classrooms.

Middle Tier Principal Everett Bennett said he would not have recommended two paraprofessional cuts this year but reduced five for the budget. Elementary School Principal Steve Kelley said he would not have recommended any paraprofessional cuts this year as it would be detrimental to the service of some children with special needs. The reinstatement was approved in a vote of four to three.

Student Assistance Counseling Services was restored to the budget on a half-time basis. The counselor is certified in drug and alcohol counseling and also works with students with anger management issues, self-esteem, and self-harm concerns. The counselor is at the school two times a week.

"(The) position came about as a result of contemporary students seem to have more problems than students had in the past," Carty said. "For some parents it's much easier to drop the management, training, and attitude adjustment of their children on the school system."

Carty also questioned the need for a School Resource Officer and said students have other avenues to address their issues.

Board member Richard Hanson said dropping this would be "irresponsible on our part as a board," especially in this economy where unemployment and family concerns are exacerbating problems with children and families.

"Without that counselor there, it's going to fall on the regular counselors," Hanson said. "I think for us to cut this would be irresponsible."

Baggaley proposed reinstating the position at half time, adding $21,500 back into the budget.

The board narrowly voted in favor of it four to three.

The Middle Tier Band program was reinstated. The cut proposed that band would no longer be available to fourth graders and offerings would be offered. Middle Tier principal Everett Bennett said this would affect students, as band would start a year later and create problems with students moving between the two buildings. The program was put back in a five to two vote at a cost of $31,000.

The Destination Imagination teams at the Middle Tier and High School were both reinstated for $5,000 in a five to two.

In total, $308,763 was put back into the budget. The total proposed budget of $19,478,378 was approved in a four to three vote by the board with Hanson, Howard Cuningham, and board member Lisa Merrill opposed.

The Board did have a discussion with members of the Inter-Lakes Educational Association on Thursday with representatives from Local Government Center on the situation with health benefits.

As a result of discussions, the ILEA agreed to a prescription plan with teachers bearing more financial cost for prescriptions at a savings to the district of $81,457.

Additionally, teachers will have an un-paid non-work day at a savings of $39,166, resulting in around $120,000 going back into the budget.

A warrant article will be put forth reflecting an agreement with Inter-Lakes Support Staff worth $7,345 in the first year and $28,735 in the second year. This article is not factored into the budget and also reflects the support staff going with the same prescription drug arrangement as the teachers.

Martin Lord & Osman
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