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Alton School Board makes final preparations before deliberative session

September 14, 2010
ALTON — The Alton School Board reviewed its presentation strategy for the Prospect Mountain High School and Alton Central School revised teachers' contracts Monday night in preparation for a pivotal Sept. 25 deliberative session on the contracts.

"We know what the questions are and we should be ready to answer them," said School Board Vice Chairman Terri Noyes.

She also called on the board to prepare a "bedazzled" Powerpoint slideshow presentation and to find comparative teacher salary and benefit statistics from neighboring school districts.

Board member Krista Argiropolis added, "There is so much positive stuff about the school and I'd like to get that out there."

Scott Bickford, President of the Alton Teachers Association and sixth grade teacher at Alton Central School (ACS), discussed the attributes of the ACS teachers' contract during the public information session. He ran through a history of the teachers at Alton Central over the past 25 or so years, arguing that the current "step and track" system is better than previous pay systems.

He said the teachers have made sacrifices in their revised agreement, namely by cutting the proposed total raise in the proposed contract roughly in half, from approximately $86,000 to approximately $44,000.

"We're trying to keep things competitive with other districts," he said.

Both the Prospect Mountain High School (PMHS) and ACS teachers' contracts were defeated earlier this year by a public vote.

A question was asked about why the school did not adopt a merit-based pay system.

Richard Kirby, a sixth-grade teacher at ACS, said the school had tried a "progressive" merit-based pay system using "objective" criteria based on teacher service and educational level in the 1990s.

Kirby believed the system worked, and faulted the community and the school board for not fully understanding how it functioned. As a result of misunderstandings surrounding the system, he said the school board voted to get rid of it and adopt the more common step and track salary system.

Now, Kirby said, community members want a "subjective" merit-based system based mainly on teacher output rather than input. He considered standardized test scores, thought by many to be an objective measure of teacher performance, to be "subjective" in practice.

As a result of the desire for "subjective" merit-based pay and the widespread acceptance of the step and track system, he believed the merit-based system of the 1990s is "never coming back."

Other business

Kathy Holt, superintendent of the Alton School District, proposed a capital improvement plan for the board to review.

Holt said the school needs a number of major improvements and eventually a massive addition/renovation over the next three to five years.

The most important improvements to the school were repaving, renovating parts of the roof, overhauling the bathrooms in a wing built in the 1950s, refitting the plow truck and possibly replacing two modular classrooms.

The board decided to space out their financial requests to the town for everything except the "modulars" over a three-year span. The board hoped it would not have to purchase the modulars, which cost $200,000 apiece. Instead, the board hopes to use that money for an addition/renovation when the time comes.

Auditors from Plodzik and Sanderson reviewed the financial reports for the 2008 fiscal year.

Certified Public Accountant Greg Colby did a page-by-page review of the audit for board members. Most of the discussion revolved around the distinction between the unreserved fund of $571,498 and the annual budget surplus.

Colby struggled to explain the difference in layman's terms, but made it clear that the school's $571,498 in the unreserved fund is not simply a "pot of money." He said that although the money must be accounted for, it cannot be readily accessed because it is inextricably intertwined with non-liquid assets and other financial considerations.

Yearly budget surpluses on the other hand, he explained, were usually much lower.

He said he did not have the reports yet prepared for the 2009 or the 2010 fiscal year, but he was nearly complete with the former.

The board extensively reviewed a proposal by Karl Ingoldsby, director of buildings and grounds, to install barriers around the school to limit walking avenues and discourage people from getting too close to the school building for safety reasons.

Ingoldsby suggested installing a split-rail fence, shrubbery, concrete planting beds or a combination of each.

Due to budgetary constraints and aesthetic considerations, the board struggled to come up with a plan in a timely fashion.

Eventually, the board agreed to put a split-rail fence in front of the school and tabled making decisions about the other areas of the school.

Ingoldsby also reviewed some minor improvements made to the school over the summer, which included installing safety hooks, retiling to the sixth grade hallway, repainting for the "1956" bathrooms and hanging six additional high-tech "smart boards." He also said he had replaced an access to an underground oil supply.

Chairman Jeff St. Cyr announced that the Superior Court ruled in favor of the town's request to hold the balloting for the teachers' contract on Nov. 2 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The board questioned why the student handbooks were given out late. Holt said they had gotten them printed outside the school and the printer was delayed in getting the books to them.

Holt also complained of new truancy laws that put more stringent restrictions on student absences. Principal Bonnie Jean Kuras said she was trying to encourage parents to schedule doctor's appointments after school has been dismissed to meet the new laws' requirements.

"The goal is to have [the students] miss school as little as possible," she said.

St. Cyr said there were 549 students enrolled at ACS on Aug. 30. The number includes all students from pre-kindergarten up through the eighth grade.

Holt notified the board that someone had donated a small statue of two children reading and that another person had donated a pair of "Netbook" laptop computers for the gifted and talented program.

The board approved the disposal of several old audio-visual carts and overhead projectors. The carts and projectors will be offered as a donation to local organizations before the school attempts to sell them.

The board made a couple minor budget transfers for bookkeeping purposes.

Next meeting

The next Alton School Board meeting will be Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. in the ACS library.

Weston Sager can be reached at 569-3126 or wsager@salmonpress.com

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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