Deer Isle, Stonington voters reject efforts to restore positions, approve school budget

Posted June 10, 2011, at 3:17 p.m.

DEER ISLE, Maine — Voters from Deer Isle and Stonington on Thursday approved the $6.1 million school budget for the coming year as proposed, but not before several attempts to change it had been rejected.

The  budget represented almost a 2 percent reduction — $126,164 less than the current school budget — as the school board attempted to ease the impact on taxpayers. The budget reductions included the elimination of several positions, and much of the discussion on Thursday focused on attempts to restore those posts.

Deena Staples, who said she represented a group of parents of next year’s second-grade students, proposed adding $55,000 to the regular education line in the budget in order to restore a second second-grade teacher to the staff.

Staples said the $55,000 figure represented a “middle-ground” figure between the estimated salaries and benefits for an inexperienced and experienced teacher. She said that 23 students were expected to be in the second grade next year and expressed concern that that was a lot for one teacher to handle, especially when there were a number of students with behavioral problems and special needs in that group.

She said she and the other parents were concerned that students would get “lost in the shuffle.”

Preschool teacher Wendy Faulkingham favored adding the funds to the budget noting that it takes a lot of time to work with special-needs students. She said having one teacher for that many students would be a “terrible disservice to the children.”

Other residents, however, were concerned about the added cost and the impact it would have on taxpayers and the school itself.

“If we keep throwing money at the schools, we’ll end up in an RSU and not have any control over what goes on in our individual schools, because we won’t have individual schools,” one woman said.

Voters rejected the amendment to add $55,000 to the budget by a 47-32 vote.

They also rejected a move to add $67,000 to the budget to restore a technology integration position that was cut during budget development.

Former and current students argued that technology was essential in today’s world and that providing adequate training for students was a key to their future success. They urged the voters to consider that and to increase the funding for the position. Others argued that the school had not done enough to prepare students for their futures and that the position should be retained.

School board members agreed that technology was a priority, but said it needed to become more a part of the entire education and not separated as an individual class.

Board member Linda Nelson stressed that the board was not “anti-technology,” but that perhaps a different model for education was needed. She suggested that the school was not helping students by offering computer courses in a lab separate from other subjects, but that it would do better by integrating that technology into everything throughout the school day.

Principal Todd West noted that many of the courses served by the position were higher end courses with very low enrollment.

The move to add the funds was defeated by a 52-26 vote.

The final discussion of the night was initiated by West, who announced that longtime marine trades teacher Tom Dyum planned to retire but was interested in a part-time position in that field.

West proposed reducing one line of the budget that included the marine trades post by $30,685 and then adding that amount to another line in order to increase the high school librarian position — which had been reduced — to a full-time position.

Voters initially supported that plan and approved reducing the marine trades line, but at the urging of the school board balked at adding it to the account for the librarian. School board members, all of whom opposed the move, noted that Dyum’s resignation had just been submitted and that while there might be savings as a result of  the retirement, the board had not had an opportunity to discuss how best to apply those savings.

Through a series of procedural moves, voters first approved cutting the funds from one line of the budget, rejected a move to add the same amount to another line in the budget, and then reconsidered their first vote and restored the funds to the original account.

The budget will go to a validation referendum vote to ratify the decision. The polls in both towns will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 14.

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