Hampden-area residents vote to restore teaching positions with local funds

Posted June 06, 2013, at 11:18 p.m.
Last modified June 07, 2013, at 11:39 a.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Efforts to restore funding for some or all of the teaching positions eliminated by SAD 22 school officials were successful during a roughly three-hour district budget meeting at Hampden Academy Thursday night.

The proposed $28,192,808 gross budget — which was approved by the school committee on May 15 — reflected a roughly $492,000, or 1.78 percent increase from this year’s budget and included the elimination of the equivalent of 11 full-time positions.

Voters made several attempts to increase the budget line for regular instruction during the meeting, which drew more than 100 residents of the SAD 22 member towns of Hampden, Newburgh, Winterport and Frankfort. Residents debated the warrant article alone for about two hours.

The first attempted amendment under article one — the budget line for regular instruction — aimed to restore positions connected to Hampden Academy, while the second looked to restore all of the cut positions. The third try was to restore the middle school foreign language program which is being suspended for one year.

“There were various amendments and in the end that article was adjusted upwards by $142,401,” Superintendent Rick Lyons said Friday.

Later in the meeting, residents voted 86-11 to raise the amount local taxpayers pay to cover the additional funds added in article one, the superintendent said.

The additional funds mean the total fiscal year 2013-14 budget — the one residents will vote on by referendum on Tuesday — is $28,335,201, Lyons said.

Arguably the most controversial planned staff cut was of veteran Hampden Academy educator David King, a beloved social studies teacher and tennis coach who has worked at the school for four decades.

At least a dozen former students, current students, colleagues and parents spoke of King’s impact on Hampden Academy students.

Tamara Montgomery, a former student, said King was a mentor to her.

“He is what makes Hampden Academy,” she said.

Kim Davis, who will graduate this weekend, called King “an amazing teacher.” She quipped that it was cool to learn about the civil rights movement from someone “who was there.”

A group of Hampden Academy alumni also started a Facebook page in support of King. The page, created on May 31, had nearly 1,600 “likes” as of Thursday night.

Now that the funding for the affected staff members has been restored, school committee members must decide how to allocate the additional funds.

Even with the additional funds, none of the teaching positions on the chopping block are guaranteed because the education committee must consider the entire district when allocating the funds, Lyons said.

“We’re already in the process of looking at all the options,” the superintendent said.

Earlier this week, Lyons said that when they began work on the 2013-14 budget late last fall, school officials expected to deal with several variables — including whether the town of Frankfort would be added to the district, which ultimately did occur — as well as the assumption that SAD 22 would receive flat funding or worse, a decrease.

In addition, the district is seeing declining enrollment, despite the fact that Frankfort officially becomes a member town on July 1.

Also taken into consideration were similar budget pressures facing the district’s municipalities, he said.

Lyons said factors contributing to the budget increase include:

— Shrinking state dollars, including a $109,000 curtailment in state subsidy that had to be absorbed during this budget year.

— A mandated $340,000 contribution to the state retirement program for teachers, an expense being shifted from the state to local schools as part of Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal.

— An 11 percent hike in employee health insurance premiums for an increase of $300,000.

— Pay increases and other contractual obligations expected to result from negotiations now underway.

To offset the increases, school officials came up with $1.2 million in budget cuts, including the elimination of the equivalent of 11 full-time staff positions and reduced hours for educational technicians and some other professionals, Lyons said. Then came Thursday’s amendment.

The budget will move forward to its last stop on Tuesday, when voters from SAD 22 member towns go to the polls for their respective budget validation referendums.

The polls will be open on Election Day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the following locations: Hampden Municipal Building, Newburgh Elementary School, Samuel L. Wagner Middle School in Winterport and Frankfort Elementary School.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated efforts to restore some or all of the teaching positions failed.

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