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IL voters restore cuts, add new funds at annual meeting

March 10, 2010
MEREDITH — Voters reinstated deep budget cuts proposed by the Inter-Lakes School Board and added more money for teachers and staff during the Inter-Lakes School District's annual meeting.

Voters from all sides of the debate packed the Inter-Lakes High School Gymnasium on Wednesday to vote on the budget and other district warrant articles.

Article 5 proposed a budget of $19,364,532, an increase of over 2 percent that contained many budget cuts.

"This was as extraordinarily difficult article," said School Board Chair Jack Carty.

Carty said the district was faced with around $923,000 in increases due to a 26 percent increase in health insurance, reduced contributions by the state into the retirement system, and other contractual obligations. The School Board recommended an increase of 1.25 percent, which Carty said reflected the economic times.

As a result over $1 million were proposed in cuts categorized into three different levels, including cutting the sixth grade teacher from Sandwich Central School and moving the seven students in that class to the sixth grade at the Middle Tier. Other cuts included a fifth-grade teacher, a diagnostic and prescriptive teacher, and co-curricular activities such as cross country programs, chorus programs, and others.

Some items were restored at a previous meeting, including the Destination Imagination team, the elementary level Spanish positions, and eight paraprofessional positions, among others.

Additionally the district worked out an agreement with the Inter-Lakes Educational Association. As a result of discussions, the teachers agreed to take a different prescription plan at a savings of $81,000 and a one-day furlough at a savings of $39,000, a total savings of around $120,000.

Carty acknowledged how much the teachers gave back.

Sandwich resident Peggy Merritt called for an amendment to the article, putting $587,702 back in the budget, the amount covering the cost of the Level 2 and 3 cuts, or those affecting a small section of students to those affecting the most students.

"I care greatly about the children in this district because they are our future," Merritt said, saying she had no children presently in the district. "I believe the process by which the School Board arrived at this budget is flawed and will severely degrade the education of students in the Inter-Lakes School District."

Merritt said the restoration of those cuts would have a tax impact of around $20 to someone with property assessed at $100,000, or the equivalent of six Big Macs.

Meredith resident Mark Flanders spoke against the amendment and passed out a spreadsheet detailing the rise in the district budget over the years along with the increases in town budgets and cost of living. Flanders said in the past 10 years the School District budget has increased 43.7 percent, while Meredith's budget has increased 28.8 percent and the Consumer Price Index has increased 24.1 percent.

"This is a budget that is not sustainable," Flanders said. "I understand that it's an emotional issue. The problem is you can't look at it like that in a vacuum."

Flanders applauded the teachers for coming to the table but said they might want to consider further changes in health insurance, such as higher deductibles. He also questioned the need for the Spanish program at the elementary schools, which meets for a short time a week.

Tim Muskat of Sandwich voiced his support for the amendment.

"Nothing when it comes to the education of our children ought to be undoable or un-undoable," Muskat said, applauding the votes by Board members Lisa Merrill and Richard Hanson and saying to the rest of the Board, "I do hope you have made your peace with the legacy you are handing down."

Meredith Resident Steve Merrill said that while he recognizes the difficulty of the times, it was not appropriate to take such financial issues out on the children.

"It is a sad statement on society that we take this financial crisis on the backs of our children," Merrill said.

Meredith resident Maribeth McEwan opposed the amendment, saying while district has people who live in nice homes and pay taxes with no children in the district, there are many people in the district who are struggling and cannot afford a large increase in their taxes.

"You want to take that money that's putting food on their table to make them pay more taxes," McEwan said.

"It makes it sound like the people concerned about saving money are not for children," said Meredith resident Pam Bliss. "We've doubled our costs. While I'm for kids, I'm not for higher taxes."

Bliss said she did not want to see anything cut for the children, and the teachers should be asked to dig deeper.

The amendment passed in a vote of 333 in favor and 123 opposed.

Nancy Fredrickson of Sandwich called for an amendment putting $179,450 into the budget to cover the salaries and benefits of a new kindergarten through fourth grade teacher at Inter-Lakes Elementary and a new second/third grade teacher at Sandwich Central School.

Fredrickson said next year's second/third grade class at SCS will be 25 students, which is at the limit of state requirements for class sizes. One new student would mean a violation of that rule and the need for the class to be split, possibly in the middle of the year.

Flanders said that, even though the money put back in the budget is for specific items, the School Board does not have to follow and can use that money however they see fit.

After asked by Carl McNall of Sandwich, Carty reiterated what he said at the Sandwich candidate's night regarding that subject.

"If something, anything (is) put back, the School Board would be extraordinarily stupid to ignore the wishes of the legislative body," Carty said. "I believe that it's your vote. I believe the School Board would be remiss to ignore that. If it's the will of the people, we have an obligation as your elected representatives to carry out that wish."

Flanders also said the vote for the previous amendment does not reflect the view of the community at large, as most people do not come to the meeting.

"It's not bad for our children to understand the concept of fiscal responsibility," Flanders said.

Jeanne Ryer of Sandwich said when her daughter was in school she was in a class of 23 students and said she missed out on much learning that year.

The amendment passed in a secret ballot vote of 300 in favor and 132 opposed.

L. Michael Hatch made another amendment to add $25,000 into a merit raise pool for non-contractual positions, such as custodians and secretaries.

Carty said a study had been done of those staff-level positions that showed they were around the poverty level in pay.

Lisa Hibbert said the custodians had a great deal of credit in keeping areas of the school free from H1N1 and her daughter, who has serious allergies, can attend school because of the job they do.

The amendment passed in a hand count by a vast majority.

Article 5 itself, for a budget totaling $20,156,694 with the amendments, passed in a ballot vote of 333 in favor and 52 against.

Voters also passed the article approving the cost items in a collective bargaining agreement between the Inter-Lakes School Board and the Inter-Lakes Support Staff Association. The article carried an estimated increase of $7,345 in the first year and $28,735 in the second year. The article passed in a ballot vote of 355 in favor and 89 opposed.

Littleton Chmber
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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