Parent reactions mixed

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Williston voters next month will face a school budget that’s $287,000 leaner than the budget they defeated last month.

The Williston School Board last Thursday approved a $15.69 million budget, a 4.88 percent increase over the current year’s school budget. The board will hold a public hearing on Thursday, May 3 at 7 p.m. at Williston Central School, five days before the May 8 vote, as required by law.

Due to the budget cuts, and an anticipated change by the Legislature in the state base tax rate, home-
owners can expect to see school property taxes go up a little more than 2.5 percent if the budget passes. The owner of a $300,000 home, for example, can expect a tax bill about $129 higher than the current year, before any adjustments for income sensitivity. That’s about half the increase taxpayers would have seen had the March proposal passed.

Before the cuts were made, some parents had asked the School Board to consider putting the same budget before voters next month. The School Board said that was not what the voters wanted given the margin by which the budget lost – 192 votes.

Parent reactions

Parents’ reactions to the cuts have been mixed.

“I think it was a good budget the first time,” said parent Jan Mazzone, who attended the last three weeks of budget meetings. “I don’t think it’s a better budget, but I think it’s the best budget they could come up with under the circumstances.”

Linda Longenbach, who also attended the recent meetings, said she thought the cuts were “balanced and measured.” Whether the cuts are enough to garner more than 50 percent of the vote, Longenbach said she doesn’t “have a pulse” on that.

What is important, she said, is the board’s stated commitment to look at four areas for future potential savings: the hot lunch program, sports programs, transportation, and class configuration.

Parent Dave Martel, who did not attend the budget meetings, said he does not want the stress of any additional taxes.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think I’m getting my money’s worth for our taxes as it is,” he said.

Parent Ryan Press, who attended the budget meetings, also has heard concern about increasing taxes, and she said she will not support the budget May 8.

“I feel that Williston is somewhat like Stepford in that we all smile and we nod and we all agree on everything,” Press said, referring to a fictional town in which wives are robotically submissive. “But I think there’s an underlying current of people who don’t agree but they don’t say that because they’re so afraid of being picked out or being singled out as ‘not one of us.’”

The cuts

Of the roughly $287,000 in cuts made, 37 percent were made in special education services. In the new budget, however, special education still will see about a $250,000 increase.

“I wouldn’t be putting these cuts out there professionally if I didn’t think we could live with them,” said Carter Smith, who oversees special education services for Williston schools. “I don’t like them, but I think we can live with them.”

The board did fund increases in supplies for foreign languages, design and technology classes and guidance and enrichment activities, and expanded computer technology staff by one hour a week. Those items totaled about $7,000.

An instructor for advanced math students will likely come from a staff member in the supervisory union, so while the 10-percent time position was not funded, student needs in this area will be met, District Principal Walter Nardelli said.

Also funded are a half-time social worker and a half-time one-on-one reading specialist to assist students struggling with reading. Those positions will be funded through federal Medicaid money.

Voluntary changes in personnel – retirements, leaves of absence or hour reductions – yielded roughly $89,000 in savings. The literacy coordinator will be reduced from an 80-percent time position to a 60-percent time position, and will refocus her efforts on first through fourth graders. Williston Central School Principal Jacqueline Parks, who has a background in literacy, will assume responsibility for fifth through eighth graders in this area.

Other cuts included elimination of the band bus serving 15-20 students in the mornings, a kindergarten bus run, and a regular school bus run. Student classroom supplies were reduced by $10 per student, leaving $80 per student in funds.