On Tuesday, March 27, the Marion School Committee held its formal public hearing, which detailed the final numbers for the fiscal year 2013 budget for Sippican Elementary School. The committee presented a $5,473,677 budget that represents a 7.39 percent or $376,762 increase from last year and supports a projected 471 children and 67 staff members at the school.
While Superintendent Doug White emphasized that cooperation with town officials, in particular Town Administrator Paul Dawson and Finance Director Judy Mooney, helped prevent deeper cuts, support staff attended the meeting to voice concern regarding cuts in their positions.
“The town has worked diligently with us on this particular project. We went to them very early, and right from the start they were cooperative. They really looked at education as a whole… They are very supportive of education,” White said. “If not, we would have had to look at different ways of delivering education to our children.”
Overall, the budget does not replace one retiring teacher, eliminates support staff charged with supervision during lunchtime and recess, and cuts the part-time Assistant Librarian position. These cuts in part were necessary to pay for significant increases in the special education budget due to Marion residents requiring residential education services ($352,000), more students attending Bristol Aggie ($54,168) and general increases stemming from contractual obligations for staff ($77,449)
Savings that helped prevent further cuts include a renegotiated bus contract and a renegotiated three-year contract with teachers that reduced sick leave buy-back from 220 days to 90 days.
“That has a dramatic impact on the town and overall finances,” Chairman Brad Gordon said.
Several support staff whose positions have been cut in the budget stepped forward at the hearing to present their concerns.
Joyce Washburn, a lunch assistant and monitor, said she felt “the kids have a lot to lose” with her position eliminated, as she keeps the order in the cafeteria and outside. “It’s important work.”
“I feel that the two hours per day is money well spent, which you may realize after this,” said another lunch monitor, who has been with the school for seven years. “It helps with the safety of children…. I try to prevent accidents. I don’t wait for [children] to hurt themselves… We are always on lookout to make sure no one is under distress.”
It was noted at the meeting that Principal Lynn Rivet and Assistant Principal Sarah Goerges would make the rounds to fill in the gaps left by these monitors’ absence.
In response to the concerns presented, Gordon said, “we don’t take this lightly. The last thing we want to do is to affect individuals.”
“The focus of our choices, right or wrong, good or bad, is always to maintain classroom instruction as much as possible. In the budget we’ve come up with, it’s the least-worst scenario,” Gordon said. “We don’t think the best solution is having principal and assistant principal do it. But in terms of protecting instruction and protecting classroom, [it’s what we have to do].”
Other questions were raised about the steep special education costs and the Bristol Aggie tuition expenses – with Superintendent White stressing that residents concerned about unfunded mandates should approach their legislators. It was also explained that students wishing to study animal husbandry, which is not offered by the Upper Tech vocational school, are allowed to go to Bristol Aggie to get these educational needs met.
Teresa Hamm, Director of Student Services, could not provide details about the special education students requiring residential tuition, which cost will the school $352,000 next year.
“As a town, how are we going to cover that” How do we rationalize one or two students negatively impacting 80 students?” asked Pat Nojeim, the Assistant Librarian who is set to lose her position.
While school officials attempted to answer these questions, it was repeated again and again that the cuts could have been much worse.
“At the beginning, we believed we were in much worse shape,” commented Chairman Gordon. “The town of Marion and Board of Selectmen really worked closely with us to support the school committee as a whole to bridge this gap. We truly appreciate the help from the town; without it there would be much more significant cuts than what we are talking about today.”
Both Gordon and Board Member Christine Winters noted that the committee’s proactive approach to pursuing energy saving initiatives helped cut utility costs, with that money is going back into the school. These efforts were paid for from its rental account so the committee did not have to ask the townspeople for money, Gordon said.
“We were able to put off cuts because of our proactive nature for quite a bit of time,” Winters said.
The school committee closed the public hearing. A final vote on the budget will take place at the committee’s April 4 meeting.
By Laura Fedak Pedulli