Williston School Board approves modest budget hike

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Provisions for math assistance, students in crisis and infrastructure issues bumped up the budget proposal for the Williston School District.

The Williston School Board last week settled on its budget for fiscal year 2015-16 of $17, 319, 491. That’s a 0.38 increase over last year’s budget and a 0.56 increase in per pupil spending. 

“I feel really good about it,” Board Chairman Kevin Mara said of the budget. “A lot of hard work went into this one in order to keep it as close to flatlined as possible. We think it’s a good budget and we hope the town supports it.”

Though board members and budget buddies—members of the community who provide input to the board—expressed pleasure at the tight budget and modest increase, some members also were cautious about adding staff positions and programs. 

“Time after time (the school administration) puts forth budgets that are below the inflationary rate as well as mindful of the job we need to do, which is to educate our kids,” Board member Josh Diamond said. “I’m comfortable but with a skeptical eye going forward. I think we need to evaluate the success of these new programs. We can’t assume that because we create them they are giving us our money’s worth.”

Diamond said a 0.38 percent total increase is more impressive when you consider that faculty and staff contracted compensation—the largest segment in the budget—is going up 3.25 percent and health care costs are going up 4.5 percent. 

The proposed budget includes five additions to the budget, known as decision packets. 

The first is a $44,838 expenditure for a half-time math intervention specialist for students in kindergarten through second grade. Previously, the administration requested a full-time position. The school currently has one full time math specialist, which it said is not adequate, leaving students who need help without it. 

The largest decision packet is $96,246 for a K-4 Success Program—trimmed down from an earlier proposal—intended to help students who are not learning and disrupting class due to trauma experienced outside of school.

 “What we’re trying to do is protect the education of all kids by making sure we take care of these kids,” Nardelli said.

Nardelli said the children who would be helped by this program need a different approach than students who are misbehaving or struggling to keep up with the material.

“Something has happened in their life that is overriding everything and making them not available to be a student. It’s about how to work with them so they are ready to read and do and move forward.”

The board also opted to add $88,000 to the operations and maintenance budget. That portion of the budget has been flat or decreased for years as the board tried to keep a tight budget, meaning there is consistently not enough money to keep up with building issues. 

“For me, something we cannot take our eyesight away from is operations and maintenance,” Board member Giovanna Boggero said. 

The board also added $5,000 for classroom libraries. 

The final decision packet was $3,120 for the Brainology program, intended to help students develop a “growth mindset,” taking some of the focus off whether students are “smart” or not.

“It’s a very successful program and it’s backed across the county,” Nardelli said, adding that fifth grade is a transition year, where students need help with organization and perseverance.