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Voters reject creation of budget committee, increase budget by $33,000

Voters in Shaker Regional School District rejected an article to establish a budget committee by a secret ballot vote of 106-71 last night and approved a $33,000 increase to the $20.87 million budget, with the purpose of keeping a full-time technology teacher.

“I just don’t understand how adding more bureaucracy and more government would ever do the best thing for our students,” said Pat Piscetta, library media specialist at Belmont Middle School during debate on the budget committee.

The article was submitted by several members of Belmont’s budget committee and was not supported by the board. Debate focused on whether an extra layer of oversight was necessary and how much authority the committee would have.

Ron Mitchell, a member of Belmont’s budget committee, spoke on behalf of the article. He said another level of approval would further persuade voters to pass the budget. Pret Tuthill, chairman of the school board, did not agree.

“I’m not sure that the existence of a budget committee is going to help us pass our budgets; you can’t get much better than what we’ve been doing,” he said.

If passed, the seven-member committee would have the power to propose changes to the budget after the school board crafted it. The committee’s recommendation would go to voters first, and the board would be tied to keeping their suggested budget within 10 percent of the committee’s. Tuthill said school budgets are complicated, and it might be difficult for committee members unfamiliar with the process to make suggestions.

“It’s not something that can be understood in three to four months,” he said.

Bob Steenson, chairman of Canterbury’s board of selectmen, agreed.

“Another layer or another group is probably not going to solve any problems that the school board can’t already solve,” he said. “No one knows the budget better than you.”

But those who proposed the warrant said more eyes on the budget would only benefit the taxpayers. It is unfair to assume committee members wouldn’t understand that certain things can’t be cut from the budget, said Tina Fleming, a Belmont budget committee member.

“There’s things that you just can’t take out and, I think it’s unfair to say as voted in committee members that they’re not going to understand that,” she said. “We have many educated people in both communities.”

Richard Bryant, a school board member from Belmont, spoke in favor of a budget committee. Last year, a warrant to become an SB 2 district failed, and he thinks creating a budget committee would prevent it from coming up again. Becoming an SB 2 district would complicate the budget process, he said.

Debate on the article lasted about half an hour.

$20.87 million budget

Voters then moved on to an article on the $20.87 million budget, which is up 1.65 percent from last year. Deb Acres, president of Belmont Elementary School’s parent-teacher organization, made a motion to add $33,000 to the budget. The district’s technology integration teacher is retiring this year, and she is being replaced by a part-time employee, which would cost about $33,000 less. The teacher works with more than 500 students, helping them and teachers learn important skills that will be valuable in the future, Acres said.

“Computer skills are no different than reading, writing and math, and are necessary for the success of our children,” she said.

The board cut the position to part time because both elementary school principles suggested it as a potential item to cut, board member Diane O’Hara said. The voter-approved increase is to the budget’s bottom line, which means the board is not bound to spend it on a technology teacher.

Gerry Ryder, the technology teacher who is retiring, said she was disappointed to hear the position would be made part-time.

“There’s no way a half-time person is going to be able to meet the needs of students, administrators and teachers,” she said.

The new Common Core State Standards require every student to have a digital portfolio, and teachers and students need to have the skills to create one, those opposing the cut said. The earlier students begin using technology, the better off they will be, Jessica Fleck of Belmont said.

The $33,000 increase passed on a hand vote, with every board member voting against it.

After the amendment passed, the new $20.9 million budget passed by a ballot vote of 118-20. Increases in this year’s budget include an additional $450,000 in health and dental insurance, $330,000 in retirement contributions and $340,000 in new special education staff. The district also lost $68,000 in special education reimbursement from the federal government, board member Sean Embree said. Some of those increases are offset by a decrease in bond payments, cutting a few positions, nonemployee special education costs and other areas.

Jill LaVallee of Canterbury was elected to fill O’Hara’s seat on the board. Voters also approved a motion by assistant moderator Tom Goulette to name the high school’s upper soccer field the Cozort Soccer Field, in honor of former superintendent Michael Cozort.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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