School budget approved, just 960 residents vote

Voters in Durham and Middlefield approved the proposed 2014-2015 District 13 school budget on May 6 by a margin of 622 to 338.

Both towns approved the proposed budget, with Durham voting 441 to 215 and Middlefield voting 181 to 123 in favor.

Board of Education members and Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Veronesi gathered at Korn School in Durham to hear the results.

Reacting to the vote, Veronesi said, “I’m thrilled. I went into this feeling confident of the outcome and very proud of the work the administration did.”

Even feeling confident, Veronesi said, “On referendum day, you’re holding your breath.”

“I’m thrilled,” said BOE Chair Kerrie Flanagan. “It’s a very good budget.”

Flanagan said she was grateful to the members of the public who provided feedback, volunteered at the polls, and voted.

The number who voted once again was low. With 622 voting in Durham and 338 in Middlefield, only 960 residents voted on referendum day. Last year, in what was regarded as a low turnout, 1,141 residents voted and passed the school budget at the first referendum.

The approved budget represents a net 1.74 percent increase over the current year’s budget. That figure never changed from the original proposal. Starting with a proposed net reduction of 13.2 staff positions, three teachers were added back to the budget in response to a higher than expected kindergarten class and concerns about class sizes.

At a district meeting attended by approximately 20 memebers of the public on the eve of the referendum, Flanagan and Veronesi called the budget responsible and also detailed the plans to reinstate two teachers after the vote.

At a previously reported on BOE meeting, Flanagan pledged to use line item transfers from transportation, engineering, interns and substitutes and other lines after the budget referendum to reinstate third and fifth grade teaching positions in the contemporary program.

Eliminating the two positions created class sizes of 23.7 for the fifth grade and 22.3 for the third. According to members, the board heard concerns and “valid points” from parents and decided to reinstate those positions.

Because the total budget figure of $35,178,402 and the salary line had already been publicized as part of the referendum, Flanagan said that the board should not change those figures before the vote.

Unlike at many recent BOE meetings and the recent public hearing, public comment at the May 5 meeting was dominated by those critical of the education budget. Kurt Peterson of Durham said that the spending increase of 1.74 percent was much larger if measured as cost per student.

One man who identified himself as a business owner in town said that taxes made him consider moving his business out of town. One speaker asked why the teachers had to be reinstated if the new class sizes were still within BOE recommendations. “Why don’t we follow our own guidelines?”

At different times, Flanagan, Veronesi, and board member Merrill Adams answered that question. “It matters how many kids and who they are,” Adams said.

The make up of those classes, including the number of special needs students and the current educational changes, made what Adams called a “perfect storm” not appropriate for higher class sizes.

“As we move forward, we need to keep our eye on the fact that our enrollment is dropping,” said Veronesi, who will detail the reinstatements at the BOE’s May 14 meeting.



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