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Budget cuts face backlash

February 10, 2010
MEREDITH — Opponents of eliminating Sandwich Central School's sixth grade and other proposed cuts came out in force at Inter-Lakes' public hearing for the 2010 budget.

In over three hours of discussion, residents voiced concern over several of the nearly $842,000 worth of proposed cuts to the budget.

The initial budget proposed by administrators had over $1.15 million in proposed cuts. During the Jan. 26 meeting the School Board reinstated around $300,000, including eight paraeducators, 1.2 equivalent positions for elementary-level Spanish, and reinstating band programs at Inter-Lakes Elementary among others.

The district also made an agreement with the Inter-Lakes Educational Association for a change in prescription benefits and an unpaid, non-workday with an approximate savings of $120,000. An article is on this year's warrant for the collective bargaining agreement with the Inter-Lakes Support Staff Association, with an increase of $7,345 this year and $28,28,735 in the 2011-2012 school year.

With the current numbers, the budget cuts total around $842,000.

"There were some very difficult decisions made we hoped we didn't have to make but we did," said Superintendent Phil McCormack.

Proposals are still in place to cut the sixth grade class at Sandwich Central School and transfer students to the Middle Tier. The savings would amount to $89,000, the salary of the sixth grade teacher.

Numerous opponents of this proposal said moving the sixth grade would have a significant impact on the school culture. Others said moving the grade was a break of a covenant to Sandwich Central School.

Sandwich resident Peggy Merritt presented a letter signed by 127 Sandwich residents protesting the proposal, saying there was no educational benefit and the move would be disruptive.

Merritt said 109 of the signers had no children in the school and many were unable to come out to the meeting due to health or age.

"There's quite a feeling in Sandwich that the sixth grade is a key component," said Martin Glenday of Sandwich.

Glenday said he was involved in the discussions to make SCS a multi-age school. If class sizes got below a certain level, Glenday said there was an agreement that the district would discuss any options with the Sandwich community before taking any action.

"I think that process has not in good faith been held up," Glenday said. "I think the sentiment is there was no process that the community became involved in (before) that reduction."

Kate Brewer of Sandwich said she has three children enrolled at SCS, one of whom is going into sixth grade.

"I fully appreciate the enormity of what you guys are trying to do," Brewer said. "Of course I'm vying to keep our sixth grade."

She asked for the board to see the "emotional impact that this has had on the entire school. The sixth grade is so critical to that entire school and how it functions."

Brewer said the sixth graders act as reading buddies for the younger students and regularly take part in community activities.

"It's all we have," she said. "You come up to Sandwich, there's not a lot else going on. It's just a really vital part of the community in its totality, the K through six."

People also expressed concern with what class sizes will look like in Sandwich, especially with two classes already approaching 25 students.

Board Chair Jack Carty said the majority of those speaking out against moving the sixth grade are Sandwich residents and the Inter-Lakes budget effects all three towns.

"It has to be something acceptable to the whole community," Carty said.

Carty said surgical cuts have been done on the budget and people everywhere are hurting from the current economy.

"(The) administrators' bottom line was 'We don't like it, we'll make it work.'"

SCS Principal John Hansen echoed the sentiment of making proposed changes work.

"I clearly don't want to lose the sixth grade," Hansen said. "I believe we're at a stage where it's more of a political issue than an educational issue."

Meredith residents Mary Williams and Diane Mega also spoke in opposition of removing the sixth grade.

"Meredith residents support the people of Sandwich," Mega said. "The school is a culture. I would hate to see something disrupt the culture of the school."

Another area of major concern for attendees was the cut of a Diagnostic-Prescriptive Teacher in Special Education.

Special Education teacher Lucy Gustafson said removing that position would get rid of an important amount of expertise and assistance and take teaching time away from the teachers.

"For every hour that she spends testing and writing reports is an hour the special educators can spend with the students they work with," said Mary Mailand, a Speech/Language Pathologist for the district. "It seems to be a no-brainer to me. The DPT is one person who very successfully works with the whole child."

Others at the meeting protested the cut of the position that oversaw the office from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Many parents said their children take part in after-school activities and sports and they would be left unsupervised outside the building with those hours being cut. Others said they had peace of mind knowing they could call the office after school and be able to reach their children then.

Many other residents spoke against cutting some of the programming.

Meredith resident Larry Thompson said the choral program at Inter-Lakes helped him overcome many adversities in his life and he would not like to see it affected.

Math teacher Diane Mega said the loss of an academic support position in the High School will result in some of her students failing math and creates issues with School in Need of improvement status in math.

Two petition articles are on the warrant for the district to reinstate a fifth grade teaching position at the Middle Tier and a kindergarten through fourth grade position at Inter-Lakes Elementary at a cost of $89,000 each.

The board was scheduled to meet again on Feb. 9 to finalize the budget before district meeting on March 3.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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