BETHEL — A long-discussed pre-kindergarten program for School Administrative District 44 may become a reality this coming school year, after the school board agreed to support funding it in the 2017-18 budget.
At Monday’s meeting, Superintendent David Murphy and the Finance Committee offered a first look at budget numbers for the coming fiscal year.
They also presented a list of “priority add-ons,” including a collaboration with Community Concepts to provide a pre-kindergarten program for up to 16 students. They asked for the board’s guidance on which of those add-ons to include in the final budget proposal that will go to district voters this spring.
While the starting budget of $10.84 million reflects an increase of $253,085, or about 2.39 percent, over last year’s budget, those figures are not final.
“We’re continuing to look at this budget, and we will right up until the time that we bring it to you again on April 24,” Murphy said.
From the list of additional requests, the board indicated by straw vote a willingness to include $347,500 more to the budget, to be allocated as follows:
• $60,000 for a pre-kindergarten program;
• $77,500 to continue an educator effectiveness coach position that is funded under the multi-year Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF4) grant the district received from the U.S. Department of Education;
• $25,000 for books and supplies to support the development of new curriculum;
• $142,000 to continue two math coaching positions funded by the TIF4 grant;
• $18,000 for additional replacement cameras for district buses; and
• $25,000 for paving and sealing of district driveways and parking lots.
Although board members said they saw merit in a request to add a pilot elementary school foreign language program for $40,000, they declined to support it in the budget for 2017-18.
“I think it’s important to know that over the last decade or so, the budget has only increased by [an average of] about two-thirds of one percent [per year],” Murphy told the School Board at the start of Monday’s budget discussion.
He said a consistent effort had been made each year to keep budget increases to a minimum. That has meant making cuts in order to offset reductions in state aid, which until last year had trended steadily downward.
“At some point, you do have to look at your budget and ask yourself, if it’s all about kids, as your mission statement says, is this really what we’re doing? Are we looking out for the best interests of our students?” Murphy asked.
Finance Committee Chairman Larry Merlino of Greenwood said he would like them to consider a future reorganization of the administration in order to cut costs.
He made several suggestions about combining positions but conceded, when asked by Board Chairman Lainey Cross, that his ideas had not been discussed by the Finance Committee.
Budget Committee member Amy Forbes Devivo of Bethel said the work of the committee has been extremely difficult.
“Going through and cutting 50 bucks here, 20 bucks there, 100 bucks there, for things (like) library books, driving kids to athletic events. We can’t do that anymore; I’m sorry. I truly believe we have cut all of the fluff out.”
She said there were no ways left to use “creativity” to cut the budget without producing a negative impact on education.
“There’s no creativity left,” she said. “Then you’re starting to affect kids, and you’re really taking the money away from kids. That’s my statement.”
Murphy said after the meeting that he expects a final budget of around $11 million, an approximately 4 percent increase over last year’s budget of $10.49 million.
Prior to the discussion on the budget, the board heard a presentation from match coaches Renee Charette and Karen Wilson, who work with all district teachers in kindergarten through grade eight.
“We work with teachers in their classrooms, planning and implementing lessons, and then following up with them and debriefing, seeing if it worked, and, if it didn’t work, why,” said Wilson, who works with teachers in grades four through eight.
With the implementation of proficiency-based curriculum standards, methods for teaching and assessing learning in mathematics have changed dramatically, Charette said.
Students are now expected to not only be able to get the right answers, but also articulate to their teachers and peers how they approached problems and arrived at solutions, a requirement of the learning standards.
Charette and Wilson have received training over the past two years from the Maine Mathematics Coaching Project, and will attend the Summer Institute at the University of Maine at Farmington for the third time this summer.
Their salaries and benefits as full-time math coaches for this school year were paid through the TIF4 grant, and the board recommended continuing to fund the positions for 2017-18.
Murphy announced the resignations of elementary special education teacher Margaret Templeton and Woodstock Elementary School second grade teacher Sarah Johnson, effective at the end of this school year.
He also reminded the board that longtime elementary music teacher Linda Stowell and Telstar Middle School science teacher Mary Richardson will be retiring at the end of the school year, as will Crescent Park School teaching Principal Levi Brown and Woodstock School teaching Principal Jolene Littlehale.