SAD 44 budget clears first hurdle
By Alison Aloisio
At Monday’s SAD 44 district-wide meeting, the proposed $9.2 million budget survived several motions to add more money and another to close the Ethel Bisbee building.
With the first step of approval now behind it, the FY’11 budget figure will go to a yes/no referendum vote June 8.
Residents will also decide then whether they wish to continue the two-step voting format in future years.
Debate on shared burden
More than 100 residents turned out for Monday’s two-and-one-half hour meeting.
The budget figure represents a $478,263 drop from the current year.
But state aid will decline by nearly a million dollars, and the district also has fixed-cost increases. As a result, if the budget receives final approval, school taxes will go up.
School directors said they tried to distribute the burden as equally as possible between taxpayers and the schools. Fifteen staff positions have been eliminated, and other budget cuts have been made.
But some residents at the meeting were concerned the burden would be too much for the schools, particularly Telstar Middle School.
TMS stands to lose three teachers (math, science and social studies).
Susan Jennings said math and science are particularly important. She said losing teachers would affect the whole school.
“Middle school is a critical time for students to decide if they’re going to stay in school,” she said.
She moved to add $160,000 to the instructional budget to reinstate the three positions.
The amount would also allow reinstatement of a half-time position at the high school.
Murphy said that if the money were to be added back, the School Board would decide how to spend it. But, he said, the board would likely consider the message sent by voters.
The amendment was defeated, 55-48.
Later in the meeting, Amy Lehman of Bethel moved to add $90,000 to the budget to reinstate the math and science positions only.
But former SAD 44 director Bill Brown of Newry expressed concern that increasing the budget “would probably decrease the chance that it passes in June.”
The motion was defeated 67-57.
Later motions to add back a special education and/or computer educational technician were easily defeated.
The motions were offered by a parent who said her child, who she said has a severe health problem, needs an educational technician nearby.
Toward the other end of the spectrum of concern about the budget, Steve Bies of Woodstock expressed his worry about the impact on some taxpayers.
He said that while he appreciated the board’s effort to balance the burden, “It’s a really bad time for a property tax increase.”
He said there are residents who may lose their homes, and hunger is also a problem in the area.
“I feel the board has not sufficiently taken that into account,” said Bies.
Scott Hynek of Bethel argued in favor of saving money by closing the Andover Elementary School, or both AES and the Woodstock Elementary School.
The board considered both for closure in 2011, but put off making a decision until next year.
Hynek, noting that a two-thirds majority of the board is needed to close a school, and that Woodstock and Andover directors voting together could prevent closure, challenged any of those directors at the meeting to “declare their willingness to vote to close the school in their town.”
Woodstock director Marcel Polak that under certain circumstances, he would vote for closure. He said directors have responsibility for the well-being of the overall school system.
Rick Whitney of Bethel later made a motion to reduce the budget by $25,000, in order to close the Ethel Bisbee School building next year.
The former school serves as the SAD 44 central office.
Supt. Dave Murphy said the closure is on the table for the future, but time is needed to choose and set up a new location for the office, and to allow the District Exchange, which shares the building, to relocate.
But Whitney said the closure “should have been planned for now,” and that closing it would not impact students.
Murphy said moving costs would be incurred, and the full $25,000 savings would not be realized.
The motion was easily defeated.
If voters approve the budget June 8, the school tax impact in each town for homes valued at $100,000 is estimated to be: Andover, $61.50; Bethel, $51.20; Greenwood, $77.80; Newry, $75.90 and Woodstock, $42.90.