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Residents vote to save teachers' positions

However, school board says they won't necessarily do that

February 11, 2010
WAKEFIELD — Voters at Wakefield School District's deliberative session sought to save two of three teaching positions that SAU 64's administration was planning to cut next year because of declining enrollment.

The deliberative session was held on Feb. 3 at Paul School and about 81 registered voters attended. At deliberative session voters were able to discuss and amend warrant articles to be voted on at the polls on March 9 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Opera House.

Enrollment at Paul School, which holds kindergarten through eighth grade, is expected to plunge from the current school population of 469 students to 439 students next year. Therefore, SAU 64 Superintendent Gail Kushner had recommended cutting the following positions from next year's budget: a first grade teacher (which had been grant funded), a fourth grade teacher, a sixth grade teacher, a guidance counselor, and three paraprofessionals. A part time secretary's position will be created to help the guidance department.

But by secret ballot, residents voted 47 to 34 to add back $115,672 into the operating budget to fund two teachers' positions.

Parent Jodi Jones said she was really upset by the staff cuts, especially the guidance position, which she said is needed because of behavioral issues at Paul School. Jones said the statistics about class size don't account for what's needed in the classroom.

"People aren't seeing the children; they are just seeing the numbers," said Jones.

Even after the proposed staff reductions, class sizes would still meet the state's minimum standards, said Kushner. After the staff cuts, there would be two first grade classes with 19 students in each, two fourth grade classes with 23 students in each, and two sixth grade classes with 25 students in each.

The minimum standards say grades kindergarten through second grade may have a maximum class size of 25. The maximum class size for grades three through 12 is 30 students.

Parent Penny Ellis made the motion to add the money for the teachers' positions. The budget amendment brought the total operating budget to $8,474,299, which is still about $112,00 less than the default budget.

The default budget goes into effect if the proposed operating budget fails at the polls. The default budget is last year's operating budget with adjustments that state law requires.

But even with the money returned, the school board isn't obligated to reinstate the positions. Voters only approve the bottom line dollar amount of the budget and not where the money goes, said school board member Priscilla Colbath.

Originally, Ellis thought the amount she proposed was enough to return funding for three teachers, but Business Administrator Toby Eaton said the amount would only cover two.

Long time Kindergarten teacher Ella Lombara backed up Ellis' argument about adding back the money. She said the students of all abilities have been successful in an intensive reading program because of small class sizes. Cutting the teachers would jeopardize this progress, she said.

"When you increase the class size by 15 percent you're asking for less one-on-one time for teachers," said Lombara. "I'm asking you to think about the future of our school and our children and support this amendment."

School Board member Peter Kasprzyk said the school board looked at the enrollment numbers carefully and made a decision they feel is the best solution for the whole town. He added enrollment is way down. Next year, the school board plans to add full time kindergarten, which should ease concerns that students are entering the first grade unprepared, he said.

"I just hope you folks will remember there are a lot of other people in this community," said Kasprzyk. "It may seem like an insignificant tax increase, but there's a lot of people who are hurting in this economy."

Following the deliberative session, the budget committee voted 9-2 to support the new operating budget. Chairman Howie Knight said the budget committee was "kind of stuck" with having to support the amended operating budget because it's still less than the default budget.

Budget committee member Charlie Edwards said he felt strongly that the money should be spent in the way the voters intended.

"It's not fair if we don't spend it on the teachers," Edwards said. "Clearly, people want the teachers."

Budget committee member Asha Kenney said she's voted against recommending the operating budget on the principle that the voters reinstated the money. Kenney said she realizes the default budget would still cost more than the default.

Prior to the reinstatement of the money for teachers, voters unanimously agreed to trim the operating budget by nearly $11,000. Officials said the amount needed for tuition for high school students at Spaulding High School came in lower than expected because of declining enrollment.

In addition to cutting teacher's positions, the SAU administration has recommended that Wakefield and Milton School Districts share a transportation director and a facilities director. Currently, both districts have their own transportation and facilities directors. A special education position will also be eliminated next year.

"We're in economic difficult times, said Kushner. "We've looked at positions across the SAU and the district to see where we can make some reductions."

The other warrant articles were not amended and will move forward to balloting:

Article 3: Asks residents in Wakefield School District adopt a school administrative unit (SAU 64) budget of $814,797 for the next fiscal year in which $455,104 is Wakefield's share. The total proposed budget is only about $500 more than the default. A majority of voters in the school SAU is needed to pass this article. The SAU 64 consists of the Wakefield and Milton School Districts.

Article 4: Asks residents to approve the cost items included in the Collective Bargaining Agreement reached between the Wakefield School Board and the Wakefield Education Association (teachers union), which calls for the following increase in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels: Year 2010-11, $62,826; Year 2011-12, $89,184; Year 2012-13, $84,735. A majority vote is needed to pass this article.

Article 5: "Shall the Wakefield School District, if Article 4 is defeated, authorize the governing body to call one special meeting, at its option to address Article 4 cost items only?"

Article 6: To see if the Wakefield School District will vote to approve the cost items included in the Collective Bargaining Agreement reached between the Wakefield School Board and the Wakefield Paraprofessional Association, which calls for the following increase in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels: Year 2010-11, $18,082; year 2011-12, $13,325. This contract allows paraprofessionals to buy health insurance at 100 percent cost to them, gives paraprofessionals three bereavement days, and standardizes the pay increases to 2.5 percent between steps. Previously, the steps had varying percentages between them.

Article 7: Asks residents to authorize the school board to call one special meeting, if Article 6 is defeated.

Article 8: To see if the Wakefield School District will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of up to $70,100 to remove and replace, as necessary, the damaged membrane roof at the Paul School, with such amount to be funded from the June 30, 2010 unreserved fund balance available for transfer on July 1. This appropriation will not lapse until the roof repairs are complete or by June 30, 2012 whichever is earlier. (Majority vote required). School officials said that portion of roof had already been patched numerous times. It needs to be fixed to prevent mold problems.

Article 9: To see if the Wakefield School District will vote to raise and appropriate the $25,000 to be placed in the Wakefield School Transportation Expendable Trust Fund for the purpose of obtaining vehicles and funding major repairs of vehicles needed for student transportation. This will help keep the district on track with its bus replacement schedule.

Article 10: To see if the Wakefield School District will vote to create an expendable trust fund for the purpose of educating educationally disabled children and to raise and appropriate the sum of up to $25,000 with such amount to be funded from the June 30, 2010 unreserved fund balance available for transfer on July 1, and to name the school board as agents to expend from this fund.

The money is intended to act as a brace for taxpayers as one disabled child can cost the district over $100,000 in a year, officials said. In cases like that the state will reimburse the school district a portion of the cost the following year, said officials said.

Special Education Director Scott Reuning said this year the school district was required to pay tuition for three disabled children removed from their home by court order. When a court removes disabled children, the state limits the amount of money the district sending the student has to pay to $35,000 per child, which is about three times more than the average per pupil cost. This year's expenditure for disabled children is about $110,000 more than what was budgeted.

"It's an unpredictable situation you can't forecast into the future," said Reuning.

Article 11: To see if the voters of the Wakefield School District direct the Wakefield School Board to support the efforts of the New Hampshire School Boards Association to seek legislative repeal of the provision in state statute commonly referred to as the statutory Evergreen Clause. This warrant article is only advisory.

Passed in 2008, the evergreen clause allows union members (such as teachers) to receive step raises while their next contract is being negotiated.

"It lessens the incentive to negotiate successfully because they will get their step raises anyway," said the school's attorney Barbra Loughman. "Many people felt that the pay freeze during the status quo (time between contracts) helped resolve collective bargaining agreements."


"It may seem like an insignificant

School board member Pricilla Colbath said the cuts weren't driven by the town turn in the economy, but rather by the need

Martin Lord & Osman
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