Finally, some good news for the Waterford school budget.
After months of cutting, the board of education managed to reinstall several programs and one teaching position. The board reinstated a TAG program at the middle school, a Quaker Hill Elementary School third-grade teaching position, indoor track, the golf team and added three interns meant to improve math scores at the elementary school.
In addition, three teachers originally slated to be laid off will now keep their jobs, because three other teachers either resigned or took leave of absences.
More could have been saved, but the board, by a 4-3 vote, rejected a pay-to-participate program that would have paid for the reinstatement of freshman baseball, freshman softball and freshman basketball for boys and girls. Chairman Donald Blevins, John Taglianetti, Jody Nazarchyk and Kathleen McCarty voted against pay-to-participate. Timothy Egan, Anne Ogden and Jessica McLaughlin voted for it.
Here are the debates on each issue, and the resolution of each.
School administrators tried to find “creative solutions” to reinstate programs at the request of the Representative Town Meeting, Superintendent Jerome Belair said. Saving the TAG program was one of those solutions, he said.
Currently, two TAG teachers work in the district’s three elementary schools, teaching math. One of those teachers, by working with the schedule, will now teach two science programs after school for one hour apiece, Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers said.
Throughout the budget process, several TAG students came to the board events, pleading to keep the program. All said they would stay after school for the program.
This adjustment comes at no extra cost to the school district, Belair said.
The longest and most-divided debate of the night was over pay-to-participate. Thanks to savings in unemployment, along with some other cuts, the board was able to save indoor track and the golf team.
However, installing pay-to-participate would allow the district to save all of the freshman sports, as well as provide additional revenue to other causes, Egan said. Pay-to-participate is not just a short-term solution, but a long-term solution that can provide revenue for years to come, he said.
“Coaches don’t like it,” said Egan, who is a coach himself. “But if you ask people directly involved with these programs, they would rather see us do (pay-to-participate) than lose programs.”
However, other board members argued against the program, arguing that with students paying to play in sports, it would cause issues on the team. Also, although scholarships are available to families who cannot afford it, many would be embarrassed to ask for it, members argued.
“Its not that I am scared of it, it is just that I don’t like it,” Nazarchyk said. “I just can’t agree with a pay-to-participate program.”
McCarty said the board has still not done its due diligence on the issue, and there is still possibilities to raise money through advertising and endowments. The football field could possibly sell advertising banners around the football field, Nazarchyk suggested.
Board members were quick to point out conferences for board members and costs for memberships to different educational organizations as places to cut.
“I’d rather cut out our things then things for students or parents,” Nazarchyk said.
However, Blevins strongly disagreed, although received no other support on the board. On two separate votes, one for a reduction on board of education conferences and the other to an educational society, the board voted 6-1 to cut the money, with only Blevins voting in favor.
During the RTM budget hearings earlier in the month; over money allocated for board of education members to go to conferences. RTM and board of finance members do not go to any conferences on the taxpayer's dime, why should board of education members, Foley argued.
Blevins voiced his opposition Thursday night.
“I would hope Dr. Foley goes to conferences, or else I am not sure I would want him operating on me,” Blevins said. “It is our job… to know what is going on in education in the country and locally.”
The board cut $5,000 out of the $10,000 line item, leaving enough money for administrators and for the board members to go to the local conference in Groton. Blevins called cutting $5,000 out of a $42 million budget “a gesture,” a word choice that angered one member of the public in the audience.
“ 'A gesture,' ” shouted Rick Beaney, a strong advocate of the district’s sports programs, from his seat in the audience. “That is half the golf team.”
The golf team costs roughly $10,000 to fund. Blevins told Beaney to be quiet, saying he did not have the floor.