Opposition heard on RSU 40 pre-k program
The Regional School Unit 40 Budget Committee came under fire at its Feb. 24 meeting as draft budgets were presented by area elementary principals.
The main concern voiced by parents in attendance was the proposed addition of a pre-kindergarten program, with cuts in teacher's aides to balance the costs — primarily library ed techs who "covers recesses and provides a lot of assistance to others", according to selectman Brooke Simmons.
The new program — which will be voluntary — involves district start-up costs for the initial year, but would become state-funded after that.
"We would provide transportation, breakfast, lunch and assistance with instruction at home," said Interim Superintendent Michael Cormier, in defense of the proposed program.
The plan calls for Warren Community School and Miller School in Waldoboro to become the initial facilities for the pre-k program, but would be open to students from the other towns within RSU 40.
"Our goal is to start with the two larger schools and expand to the other three," said Cormier.
In order to accommodate adding two pre-k classes at each of the two schools, the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms would be consolidated into two as well — increasing class sizes.
"My child's classroom will go from 17 to 21 kids," said Vicky Swan, parent of a WCS student. She explained that making larger class sizes while taking away teacher assistance would be detrimental in those classes where there are "very disruptive kids already."
"We need to focus on our kids now," said Swan. "Warren Community School was failing, but is improving," she added. "I feel like the district is railroading the parents."
Swan and other parents noted there are quality pre-school programs in the area. "What about the economic impact on them?" Swan questioned.
Cormier explained that there is a high poverty level within the district. "We have enticement," he said. "We will offer care and instruction for two days a week which is good for parents who work and resources are limited," Cormier added.
"Data shows that 50 to 80 percent of students in kindergarten were not ready," said Kim Shroeter, director of Instruction, adding "kids are coming in a year or two behind where they should be."
"What we are doing now is not working," said Cormier.
Deborah Howard, principal of WCS, proposed an interventionist position, which would be someone who would give extra help to students in need that are not special education students.
"There are kids who need extra help that the classroom teachers cannot get to," said Howard.
After presenting a draft budget of $23,105,171 at its initial meeting Feb. 10, the budget committee outlined items for review at this second of nine meetings in the process.
Of the 4.32 percent increase, $215,734 was attributed to purchasing professional and technical services, $328,497 for increased benefits, and a $448,179 increase in salaries — of which $83,670 is proposed to include four additional Special Education Ed Tech positions in 2014-2015.
According to minutes from the Feb. 10 meeting, enrollment is down for the district but the pre-kindergarten program could help.
"First glance at the bottom line looks like the proposed budget is going up 4.32 percent," said Business Manager Karla Miller at that meeting. "However, we added all of the costs for special education into the general fund and a $200,000 MaineCare reimbursement revenue to offset the expenditure." According to Miller, those costs were not included in the general fund in prior years, but in a separate fund.
Cormier also called attention to the valuations under the revenues tab which noted community town valuations went down 1.83 percent and state valuation went down 2.09 percent.
The next budget meeting will be held Monday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at Medomak Middle School in Waldoboro.
More information on the proposed budget can be found at msad40.org.
RSU 40 serves the towns of Friendship, Union, Waldoboro, Warren and Washington.
Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at email@example.com.