About 30 people showed at Milton High School this Saturday to guide district officials in forming a new fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, and their opinions may influence the new bottom line.
The schools’ original $26 million budget, a 6.69 percent increase from FY14, failed on Town Meeting Day. The new proposal trims $441,000 from that number, totaling $1 million in reductions to reach a 4.89 percent increase, Superintendent John Barone’s numbers show.
“This list I’m about to go through is not a position we want to be in, but having heard from the voters, that is our charge,” Barone told an assembled crowd in the library.
Parents, faculty and community members sipped coffee and tea and snacked on donuts and scones during the two-hour presentation, which started with the new list of cuts.
Among them, in rounder numbers:
• .5 full-time equivalent middle school Spanish teacher, .5 FTE personal finance teacher at MHS and, by request, .33 FTE MHS classroom teacher, all to save $105,950;
• 1 FTE reading specialist, $101,360 (comprised of salary and benefit costs for 1.5 FTE employees, gleaned by moving the most senior person into a vacant position);
• 1 special educator, $79,870;
• 1 elementary school teacher, $57,060 (currently vacant);
• 2 paraprofessionals, $43,990; and
• 1 behavior interventionist, $38,575.
The district also realized $25,945 in savings by moving a teacher’s salary and benefits from a federal grant to the general fund; normally this would increase the tax levy, but there was a recent vacancy, Barone said.
Another $25,000 comes from the dual enrollment program, which lets high school juniors and seniors take one college course per year; $20k was already trimmed in the first round. The extracurricular equipment and supplies lines took a further $10,000 hit after $6k from the first round, and textbooks cut $36,000, making that total $54,000, Barone’s numbers show.
The new cuts add to the $595,000 in the original budget, including paying the food service director with self-sustaining food service funds ($86,095 saved), hiring less custodial summer help ($30,000), making fewer computer replacements ($113,650) and consolidating a school bus run ($31,600).
Much discussion ensued about the reading specialist, a position the board considered before Town Meeting and ultimately kept in after hearing parents’ concerns. Similar testimony was given Saturday.
Grade 3-4 teacher Janet Lamb read a letter, signed by her and her colleagues, advocating for the position, which they said provides dedicated, personal instruction to students struggling with literacy. A cut would be a step backward, the letter said; 75 percent of enrolled students no longer need services.
“We just feel very strongly about this,” Lamb said.
Leaving the position would bump the new budget to a 5.23 percent increase over FY14, Board Vice-Chairman Eric Houghton said.
Sandy Schlegel said her children and many others have benefitted from the reading specialist’s services and worries about a downslide: “If that one little pin is pulled, they don’t keep going up,” she said.
Jen Winegar said these students may also get services from a special educator, behavior interventionist or paraprofessional – all slated for cuts.
Barone said that’s absolutely true and is why the district wants to move toward “co-teaching,” or placing special educators in classrooms in favor of paras. Special educators, also licensed teachers, can help any student, not just those with individualized education plans, Barone said.
This budget already includes trading in four paras for one special educator (a budget-neutral change), totaling six slated for cuts. The district has previously proposed cutting 12 paras, but the board nixed it.
Winegar said the kids can’t wait until the district is ready for that type of change: “If a better model can be put into place, let’s put it in place,” she said.
Others showed concern about the foreign language cut. Without the Spanish teacher, eighth-graders would still get 50 minutes of daily instruction for half a school year but with a teacher who primarily speaks French, 6-8 Principal Barbara Burrington said.
Jenny Houghton said the earlier students start a foreign language, the better. Barone, a former Spanish teacher, agreed: “[The cut] goes against every grain … I believe in,” he said.
MHS Principal Anne Blake said Milton is already behind because the school doesn’t employ enough teachers to give students four years in the same language; Blake had to append a letter to her daughter’s college application explaining why Caitlin took German her senior year instead of French.
Reinstituting this position with the reading specialist will create a 5.37 percent increased budget. A hand poll showed most people in favor.
Ray Grant was frustrated that academics seem to take a bigger hit than sports. He advocated for a pay-to-play model at a previous board meeting, but since then, Athletic Director Joe Solomon advised against it, saying more substantial cuts could be made by eliminating middle-school busing or instituting self-transport to Chittenden County high school games; the board hasn’t taken either suggestion.
Blake said she enrolled her daughter in Milton for its broad range of programs – before and after school. She thinks the offerings are equitable and meet students’ needs.
“If we’re not counterbalancing our technology with our ability for our kids to be active, we’re losing the bigger picture,” she said.
Theodoros Anemikos thinks sports are necessary but wondered how to make education investments as attractive as those in extracurriculars.
Barone asked for the audience’s help: “We have got to pass this budget the second time,” he said.
Business Manager Don Johnson said the attendees’ willingness to show up helps: “The fact that you’re here is huge to us,” he said.
Board Chairwoman Mary Knight said none of the cuts are set in stone, even though faculty slated for cuts were handed reduction-in-force notices by the April 1 contract deadline. If the board decides to keep the positions, however, the employees will get recall notices, Barone said.
The superintendent was pleased with the turnout and feedback. He expects the board to deliberate the proposals at its April 14 meeting, 6 p.m. in the district training room.