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Voters approve budget, teachers' contract in Moultonboro


March 17, 2010
MOULTONBORO — Voters approved the Moultonboro School District budget and teachers' contract as presented at District Meeting despite recommendations against both.

During Saturday's School District Meeting, voters approved the School District budget as originally presented. Voters, however, rejected proposed amendments adding money to restore positions and retain the readiness program.

This year's $13,674,860 budget includes the cut of 3.5 positions, including a special education teacher and a technical position at Moultonboro Central School. It also cuts the readiness program in favor of a full day of kindergarten. School officials said students in need of readiness services have the option of another year of kindergarten with a readiness focus in the background taught by the current readiness teacher.

School Board Chair Laurie Whitley and Superintendent Michael Lancor said the cuts were made due to declining enrollment trends, especially in Moultonboro Central School. Several residents, however, spoke out against the decision to cut readiness, saying adding a full-day kindergarten would not adequately make up for the education.

Resident Lisa St. Amand spoke against the decision to cut readiness and the other positions, putting forth an amendment adding $181,875 to the budget to restore those cuts. St. Amand said the schools in Moultonboro are some of the best in the state and a good education leads to a good community and good property values.

"It is the programs currently in place that put pour test scores at excellence," said resident Karen Gundersen, who expressed concern that the schools might not meet Adequate Yearly Progress if programs are cut.

"Moultonboro has always been a town that sets the bar high in education," said resident Amy Elfline. "Why stop now? We have an opportunity to say here, 'Education is what we value.'"

Russ Stewart said he has a son who utilizes some programs outside of the classroom.

"(I) feel strongly this program should not be interrupted based on financial reasons," Stewart said.

Elizabeth Morin said she has a daughter in readiness this year and said the program helped her child greatly.

"If she had not had that, she would have hated first grade," Morin said, saying there are many students who are not ready to enter kindergarten and need this program. "To see this program gone I think is disheartening."

Special Education Director Lou Goscinski said there was no need to add further funds into the special education budget and Special Education's requests for funds are reflected in this year's budget.

"Full day kindergarten is a big step for Moultonboro," Whitley said, saying the district is taking this move to meet new state standards for kindergarten. "We are not abandoning programs or undercutting our excellence."

The other members of the Board also voiced their support of the proposed budget.

Voters allowed a few students to speak to the issues, some in favor of having readiness and others open to the proposed change.

Moultonboro Academy student Ian Bird said he went to readiness and learned valuable social skills to go forward.

"The way that things are currently taught in readiness is great, but I think these things can be taught in kindergarten as well," Bird said.

School Board member Mark Borrin said around 12 students are enrolled in readiness and between four or five are expected to be in the program next year.

Borrin also questioned the need for that much money if the main desire was keeping readiness.

A few residents said it did not matter how many students were projected to be in the program and they would lose out if the program were cut.

"I often say to parents that the readiness program made the difference between being leaders or followers," said resident Sandy Ringlestein.

Resident Angela Hoyt spoke against the amendment, saying the board had fully worked out what was needed.

The amendment failed after the vote and the total budget passed.

Voters also approved the collective bargaining agreement between the district and the Moultonboro School Staff Association, despite the Advisory Budget Committee's recommendation against the contract.

The contract carries an estimated increase of $83,866 in the first year and $141,856 in the second year, funding salaries and benefits at current staffing levels.

ABC Chair Jean Beadle said the Committee strongly opposed the contract. Beadle said under the current economic conditions employees have been asked to take reductions.

"We anticipated that the teachers would take part in our concern," Beadle said, saying the teachers could have taken such action as going a year without an increase.

She said the ABC was pleased to see the town and library did not have across-the-board salary increases this coming year.

Beadle also said the ABC took issue with retirement incentives in the contract, saying they had no end date.

The ABC did approve of the district taking 87.5 percent of health insurance costs, where they had taken 90 percent before.

"These are the opinions of the majority of the budget committee," Beadle said. "You are the legislative body, you need to make the decision.

School Board Chair Laurie Whitley said the contract was the result of eight negotiation sessions and 14 hours of mediation after an impasse was reached with both sides coming up with a list of requests.

"We're very cognizant of the economic times and very sensitive to the financial realities of Moultonboro," Whitley said.

Whitley said the new contract has the same salary structure as the one in place now with a second year change that keeps to the middle of the salary range for Lakes Region schools.

Whitley said the district values its veteran teachers, but said the retirement incentive was a way to put in teachers on lower steps and review positions that may or may not need to be filled again. She also said the contract expires in two years, which will be the end date of the incentives.

"Throughout this whole budget, we haven't been able to understand why the ABC does not support (it)," Whitley said.

Resident Norman Larson said he was aware of the current economic situation, but said the ABC was being inconsistent in its recommendations against the school budget and not every budget presented to them.

Ton Howard said the town was not giving an across the board raise, but employees were still receiving their step increases. Howard asked if it was better to spend money to recruit new employees or retain the current ones.

Superintendent Michael Lancor said the budget was down .49 percent, an amount that includes the first year of the contract.

The contract article passed in a secret ballot vote of 216 in favor and 90 against.

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