Dec. 17, 2009
By Tim Simard
Next year’s school budget increase may be low, but can it go lower?
The Williston School Board and administration heard a variety of opinions about the 2010-2011 school budget Tuesday night during a public forum. While the majority seemed pleased with the increase of 1.05 percent over the current budget, some parents offered suggestions on how to reduce costs even more.
Next year’s budget is estimated at $16.49 million. That figure does not include possible additional service costs.
One parent believed the administration and board should make further cuts and remove what she believes are extraneous costs. Parent Abby Klein, who teaches kindergarten in South Burlington, said the board should consider eliminating many teacher assistant positions. Klein has two children in Williston’s upper houses. She said in her experience, teacher assistants did mostly secretarial work and spent little time directly instructing students.
“To me, it’s not even a discussion,” Klein said. “Why are we paying people to do a teacher’s clerical work? I have a hard time with that. We’re paying for teachers to have a secretary.”
The idea of cutting teacher assistants has come up before, including last year when the budget needed significant downsizing. Parents defended teacher assistants at last year’s budget forum, saying they’ve helped students with individual learning while letting teachers provide more instruction to the entire classroom.
The board eventually cut two teacher assistant positions in this year’s final budget. The school district currently employs 21 teacher assistants, most of whom work part-time.
Klein said part of her job as a teacher includes work like sending e-mails, scheduling conferences and photocopying assignment sheets. In Williston, teacher assistants often complete those tasks.
But a few parents on Tuesday defended the teacher assistants, saying they’ve helped immensely in their children’s education, especially in the lower houses.
Parent Kevin Mara suggested the teaching assistant job should become more standardized across the houses.
“Make it more equitable,” Mara said. “Some (teacher assistants) are amazing, some just do clerical things.”
District Principal Walter Nardelli defended the current teacher assistant roles, as they can cover lunch and playground duty instead of paraeducators. By giving paraeducators more time to work with special needs students, the district is able to have more of those funds reimbursed through the state.
Nardelli said it’s the main reason Williston has one of the lowest cost per pupil figures in the Champlain Valley.
“We have more reimbursable resources than most school districts,” Nardelli said. “We offer a lot of great education for the dollar.”
Board members said they and the administration would further investigate the teacher assistant positions.
“I’ve said it before: It’s a luxury we have in this district,” board member Holly Rouelle said.
Nardelli also spoke at length about possible additions to the budget. School officials proposed 15 budget “decision packets” last week, ranging from supply increases to configuration moving expenses. The board, however, told the administration that it wants to keep the budget increase at or below 1.05 percent.
“If any of those packets come in, something has to come out,” School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said.
Nardelli said there were certain items that had to be addressed in next year’s budget. The school’s reconfiguration moving expenses are figured at $32,000, which Nardelli said was a high estimate.
Furthermore, Williston’s high enrollment of students with English as a second language will require the addition of a teaching position, costing nearly $60,000. Nardelli said Williston serves half of the English language learners in Chittenden South Supervisory Union.
Williston Central School’s logic board needs replacing as well, at a cost of $15,000. The logic board controls all of the school’s heating, air ventilation and alarm systems. It’s a preventive measure to avoid extra costs if the system breaks down next year, Nardelli said. He’s looking to see if a new logic board could be paid for by June with this year’s budget money.
Other decision packets include $10,000 for science class supplies. Nardelli said new supplies could help increase New England Common Assessment Program science test scores. Parents appeared to support the science decision packet.
“We have not spent money in that area in a long time and I think the board needs to take a long look at that,” Mara said.
The School Board will continue its budget work after the New Year, including tax rate appraisal and a final review of decision packets.
The next School Board budget meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Jan. 7 at Williston Central School.