SAD 27 votes to move grades to high school, but keeps pre-k at half days

Posted April 24, 2013, at 6:49 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — School officials on Tuesday backed away from a proposal to shift the schedules of some of the district’s youngest students while approving a plan to move seventh and eighth graders into the high school building.

Together, the proposals would have meant nearly $200,000 in savings for the district which is facing $1.5 million in cuts for the upcoming 2013-2014 fiscal year, according to Tim Doak, district superintendent.

A proposal to offer kindergarten classes three full days a week and pre-k classes on two full days a week would have resulted in $70,000 in savings, Doak said.

Currently, the pre-k students attend school for half days all week and the change would have eliminated the noon bus runs, at an annual savings of $13,000.

Additional savings would have come from staff reductions, he said.

Concerns cited by some of the 75 district residents attending Tuesday’s meeting were shared by a majority of the school board.

“Putting my 4-year-old on the bus at 6 a.m. and having him in school all day and on a bus home at 4 p.m. is a long day for a young child,” one parent said. “A full day is too much for a 4-year-old [and] we need to look at cutting but that age group should not be made to suffer.”

Doak agreed the move would impact young students.

“There are some kids who could go [to school] all seven days if we let them and there are those who can barely handle half days,” he said. “We are listening to the people and working through this.”

Even floating the idea, board chairman Barry Ouellette said, underscores the financial situation in which the board now finds itself.

The board initially came up with a preliminary $13.5 million Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget but reworked it down to the previous year’s $12.1 million.

That amount could drop another $160,000 if the state ends up funding 100 percent of the teacher retirement fund this year.

“This is a prime example of what happens when you have to cut $1.5 million,” Ouellette said. “It is going to impact everyone, or taxpayers are going to have to pay more.”

Under a proposed biennium budget from the governor’s office, cuts directly affecting municipalities and school departments include elimination of municipal revenue sharing, funneling of commercial vehicle excise tax payments directly to the department of transportation, elimination of the Homestead Exemption Act, further curtailments of aid for general education, and transfer of 63 percent of responsibility for teacher retirement funding over to the school districts.

“This is the worst I have ever seen it,” he said. “We need to think of the taxpayers [and] can’t lean on them during these economic times.”

With the pre-k schedule left at half days, Doak said the board must now re-visit the budget to find $70,000 in savings before the May meeting.

Moving grades seven and eight into the high school will take effect at the start of next year, following the board’s approval of the plan Tuesday, and save the district $120,000.

A majority of those savings would come from reduction of at least two teachers, possibly three, at the elementary school with current high school faculty members teaching some of the the middle school classes.

Overall, SAD 27 is looking at staffing cuts districtwide that include five teachers and three ed techs totaling $332,000.

Other cost saving measures include $393,000 through deferred capital improvements and cuts to extracurricular programs of $8,000.

Budgetary considerations aside, Doak said moving the seventh and eighth graders makes solid educational sense as the students will have access to the high school’s gymnasium, library, stage and band room — all of which he said are superior to those at the elementary school.

“Even if we learned we were getting a gazillion dollars from the state next week, I would still be recommending this move,” he said.

The space created in the elementary school by the move will be used for the district’s technology center and for learning labs.

Over at the high school, the seventh and and eighth grade students will be on their own bell schedule, attend classes in a designated area reserved for them and have their own lunch period.

“This will be a safe and secure social and educational environment for them,” Doak said.

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