“If you think we’re trying to waste money, we’re not,” Jones stated. He reiterated, as he did last month, that the board is trying hard to make improvements without raising taxes. But, he said, “we can’t let our buildings fall apart. The elementary schools…they’re really unacceptable.”
Last month, the board adopted a $38.5 million preliminary budget for next year that reflects a 3.3 percent property tax increase, but Jones said then that, by scrutinizing the budget and finding ways to make cuts, he hoped the increase would be unnecessary.
Resident Kelly VanDenBerg asked the board if it was fiscally responsible to take out a new bond when the district already has a capital fund of $3.8 million, financed through a bond issue, and is faced with a $2 million budget deficit. With the board encouraging longtime teachers to take an early retirement so it can save in next year’s budget, taking out a $4.5 million bond “doesn’t make fiscal sense,” she said.
“It’s in the eye of the beholder, fiscal sense,” responded the board’s business manager Al Melone. Jones stated that the board is trying to create a balanced budget that does not increase taxes. Acting now on the bond, he said, allows the board to take advantage of low interest rates.
“But I’m just questioning why we’re taking more money out when we don’t have enough to pay the bills,” VanDenBerg replied. Her children would thrive in a new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) building, she added, but again inquired about the funds for it.
Superintendent Joseph Gorham then went on to describe the need for a new science and technology center. The current environment in the middle and high schools is not conducive to learning, he said, as there are no open areas where students can work in groups or participate in larger projects. The science labs in the high school are unusable, with gas jets that were never hooked up. The students look through microscopes bent over their desks rather than comfortably on raised tables.
“It’s no longer acceptable to sit through the chalk-and-talk phenomena…” Gorham continued. “We need an environment that will facilitate in a better way what we’re already doing…an environment that fosters 21st century learning.”
Jones related, “I don’t know when there ever is a good time to borrow money. We fight this battle constantly. We look at every nickel we spend and these are really hard decisions.”
The board unanimously then voted to issue $4.5 million in bonds for “planning, designing, acquiring, constructing, installing, furnishing, and equipping of alterations, renovations, additions, and improvements to existing facilities of the school district.”
In other business, Gorham discussed the making up of snow days, after almost a week was lost to the March 14 blizzard and more potential snow days are needed. Most likely the days will be made up at the end of the year and, as of now, graduation is set to be on Tuesday, June 6, rather than June 2.
When asked about the senior lock-in, an event usually held on graduation night as a way to encourage students to celebrate responsibly, Chris Gegaris, principal of the high school, indicated that the district will try to still hold the event on June 2. This is because nonrefundable deposits have been made for that date.
The board accepted the intent to retire, at the end of this school year, the following teachers: Charles Herring, Joseph Chimola, Carolyn Boone, Michael Stanek, Denise Keiser, and Lorrae Orlove. The board hopes to save money by either not replacing these teachers or by hiring teachers with lesser starting salaries.
The board also approved the hiring of several coaches for spring and fall sports. They include Rob Moulton, boys’ track and field, to be paid $4,880, and for cross country, to earn $4,600; Ryan Arcangeli, girls’ track and field, to be paid $4,880; Greg Myers, football, to earn $7,036; and Mike Williams, girls’ volleyball, $3,958.