November 1, 2014

iPads nixed from new Williston school budget

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Revote set for May 7

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

The iPads are gone from the Williston School District budget.

The Williston School Board removed a contentious initiative that would have provided iPads for fifth and sixth graders, after voters narrowly rejected the school district’s proposed budget in March.

Board members were flooded with emails, and nearly 40 residents turned up for a budget forum on March 27—many of them expressing concern with the so-called 1-to-1 iPad initiative, as well as the rising cost of education altogether.

“At the budget forum and all the myriad of emails we’ve gotten recently, three things were loud and crystal clear,” board member Giovanna Boggero said at the board’s April 2 meeting. “One, iPads should be gone. Two, teachers should not be touched. Three, programs should not be touched.”

The iPads, a $96,500 addition to the technology budget, are not included in the board’s new 2013-14 budget proposal.

New information—retiring teachers and staff members who are not returning, as well as a lower-than-projected increase in health insurance costs—allowed the board to further trim the new budget proposal to $17,253,639.

“It is tight, there’s no question,” Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli told the board. “There’s no fluff in this budget.”

On March 5, residents voted against the proposed Williston School District 2013-14 budget of $17.5 million, defeating it 602-629.

The new proposed budget is a 3.8 percent increase from the 2012-2013 budget. The proposal is approximately $215,000 less than March’s failed budget, which represented a 5.1 percent increase over the 2012-2013 budget.

Residents can vote on the new budget May 7 at the Armory from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and an informational meeting is set for May 1 at 6 p.m. in the Williston Central School auditorium. Residents can also vote anytime until May 7 by going to the town clerk’s office or requesting a ballot be mailed to them.

Board member Josh Diamond said that although he heard “loud and clear” that residents did not want to support the iPad initiative, he “somewhat lament(s)” the missed opportunity to train students in new technology.

“I do agree we have a duty to represent our constituents, but we also have a duty to lead in the best interests of the school district,” he said. “I do feel that there was really a missed opportunity here.”

At its April 2 meeting, the board also considered additional budget cuts prepared by the administration—including cuts to bus runs, technology education, world language, sports, supplies and a third/fourth grade teacher position—but did not implement them.

“I think we are responding to what the community is requesting,” Boggero said, pointing out that the new budget is a 3.8 percent increase, compared to the 5.1 percent increase failed by voters in March.

Board member Kevin Brochu added that many of the communications he has received from staff members said not to adjust teaching staff.

“We have quality teachers and we need to support them 100 percent,” Brochu said.

He pointed out that downsizing the teacher count should be done with caution, as it’s not always easy to find new teachers.

“I’m not opposed to having fewer students in classrooms,” he added.

Board member Josh Diamond said it might be fiscally prudent to consider a plan to reduce teaching staff, given that enrollment is projected to decline.

“I think we do have a sustainability issue that we’re going to have to address, maybe not this year,” Diamond said.

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