Sandwich voters grill IL Board candidates
March 03, 2010
SANDWICH — Candidates for Inter-Lakes School Board were put on the hot seat by residents at a recent candidates' forum.
Candidates Jack Carty and Chris Mega running for the Meredith seat and Rebecca Alosa, who is running unopposed for the Center Harbor seat, took part in Sandwich's candidates' forum on Sunday. The proposal to move the sixth from Sandwich Central School to the Inter-Lakes Middle Tier was a major contention for most residents in attendance.
During a previous School Board meeting, Alosa voted against a budget amendment to keep the sixth grade at Sandwich Central School.
Alosa said she lived in Sandwich for five years and her son went to SCS through the third grade She said she came to her decision on her own and stood by it.
"It's a class with seven students, so it's really low enrollment," Alosa said. "I feel like socially it gives children the chance to become more integrated with their peers."
When asked by a resident, Alosa said her first priority was providing a quality education and looking at how the communities work together, with taxes part of the whole equation.
She said there has not been discussion of plans for next year.
"I just feel the very basic thing about education is teachers," said resident Virginia Heard. "I think it's so important that we don't eliminate teachers."
Resident Nancy Fredrickson addressed concerns about the proposed 25-student class size in the second and third grade class.
Alosa said 25 students meets state guidelines and students will go in and out of the classroom at various points in the day.
"This is a very contentious issue in this town," said resident Ben Bullard. "Gutting our school by taking our top tier away, the mentors of our (classes), it doesn't really fly with the people of this town because it's a huge change."
Bullard said he realizes how tight the budget is this year.
"We all feel like we've been pinpointed and taking away something that is essential to our community. It's taking out a little part of our community."
Earlier calculations indicated that keeping the sixth grade would cost Sandwich taxpayers three cents per $1,000 assessed value in their tax rate. Many said they would be willing to pay that amount.
Mega said he disagreed with the proposal.
"I do totally support the sixth grade position here at Sandwich for philosophical reasons, community reasons," Mega said.
Mega said he thought many short-term cuts had been made to the proposed budget. He also said moving the sixth grade was listed as a Level 2 cut effecting a few students, while he said it should have been a Level 3 cut drastically effecting many students.
Mega said it costs around $1 million to run Sandwich Central School while it costs around $4 million to run Inter-Lakes Elementary.
"Dollars and cents, it isn't even fair to me that Sandwich was even made to ask that concession," Mega said.
On class sizes, Mega said he spoke with Sandy Hyslop of the state Department of Education regarding the size of multiage classes. Mega said he was told by Hyslop that 25 would be considered an acceptable number, though the number depends on the demographics of students in the classroom. An appeal can also be made to the Department of Education if there are disagreements on class size.
Overall, he strongly disagreed with the board's direction to the administrators of keeping the budget increase under 1.25 percent. Mega said there should have been further review and a balance of what the district could afford.
Incumbent and current Board Chair Jack Carty said he has been asked by several Meredith residents why the district will not close down Sandwich Central School.
"I've heard it so often I've got the answer down pat: 'It's a good school,'" Carty said. "We're in the education business as a School Board, and it's very important to the people of Sandwich."
Carty said he was a chair for the building committee of Sandwich Central School and said criteria was established that the district would not discriminate against any school on the basis of grade level and would not discriminate on the basis of location. Carty said he has been an advocate for the school since on measures such as reinstating the secretary to a full time position and keeping School Board representation equal.
He said the 1.25 percent increase was a was set as a target for the administrators and the administrators recommended the changes based on their judgment and experience. Carty said there was no single thing that could be cut, instead the district "had to nibble around the edges."
Carty said the budget process continued for as long as it could to take over six hours of public input.
"Do I think sending the seven sixth graders to the Middle Tier at Inter-Lakes is the beginning of the end? No, I do not," Carty said.
Carty said 17 percent of students in the district and 43 percent in Inter-Lakes Elementary School alone receive free and reduced lunches, a reflection of the economic reality of the district. He said there may have been people at the public hearings who were too intimidated to speak in favor of cutting the sixth grade, though they might make their voices heard at district meeting.
Carty was asked about the policy that if voters vote to reinstate money in the budget the School Board is not obligated to follow the exact request.
"If there's an amendment from the floor for whatever reason, it passes, I think the School Board would be extraordinarily stupid to ignore the will of the people, because that's why we're there," Carty said.