Jefferson School Committee Chair Robert Westrich listens as member Maria Solorzano speaks about the proposed 2014-2015 education budget. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
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By Dominik Lobkowicz
The Jefferson School Committee voted unanimously April 7 to approve a proposed $5,212,720 K-12 education budget for 2014-2015, though committee members were split on whether to include certain staffing changes.
The proposed budget, if voters approve it, would be a $275,323 or 5.58 percent increase over the current school budget, representing a $170,917 or 5.35 percent increase to the locally funded amount.
The committee unanimously approved including a new second-grade teacher in the budget, but the addition of a new middle level teacher failed to gain approval. Each position was considered at an overall cost of $62,467 for salary and benefits.
An increase to student “specials,” or art, music, and physical education, from half-time to 80 percent of full-time was included in the proposed budget by a 3-2 vote.
The specials were cut to half-time last year as part of a $240,000 reduction to the regular instruction budget category approved by Jefferson voters.
The proposed increase to the specials would cost $45,606 in salaries and $1,209 in benefits, according to AOS 93 Business Manager Katherine Hunt.
The cost of the increased specials were previously estimated by district officials to cost an additional $26,000, but that figure was corrected at the April 7 meeting.
Much of the discussion on increasing the specials and the middle-level teacher centered on increasing student proficiency in grades K to 8.
Jefferson Village School Principal Peter Gallace previously shared results from the recent Northwest Evaluation Association test that, among other results, showed of current fourth-graders (excluding special education students), 47 percent scored below the 40th percentile in math and 32 percent scored below the 40th percentile in reading.
Recently-elected committee members Shawn St. Cyr and Maria Solorzano voted against increasing the specials.
St. Cyr said he believes the students need increased seat time for their other subjects.
“The arts are important, but they are getting some,” St. Cyr said. “It’s not like they’re not getting any.”
According to Solorzano, the increased specials will not benefit students who are struggling in other subjects as much as more seat time in the classroom. Solorzano said she wants to make sure the students leaving JVS stay competitive with their peers at Lincoln Academy and Erskine Academy.
“I don’t think adding specials is going to help that,” she said.
Committee Chair Robert Westrich and member Forrest Bryant acknowledged St. Cyr’s and Solorzano’s concerns, but voted to keep the increased specials in the budget.
“I agree with you, we should concentrate on the classroom work and get the scores up,” Westrich said.
Bryant said he was on the fence about the issue since a lot of students find education in the specials.
The board was also divided on the addition of a middle level teacher, which failed in a 2-3 vote.
Gallace had previously presented a schedule, which would have used the additional teacher to provide better student-teacher ratios in certain subjects based on the students’ NWEA scores.
Both Solorzano and St. Cyr questioned whether the additional staff was needed, or if the additional funding was being proposed to fix improper placement of teachers in those grades.
Westrich defended the proposed addition, saying the school had better test scores when there were more teachers at that level. Gallace and his staff requested the additional teacher based on their contact with and knowledge of the students in those grades, Westrich said.
Mary Bridgham, a middle level teacher at JVS, said grades 5 to 8 have undergone cuts for several years.
“I think if you could give the kids a bit more, I think it would work for them,” Bridgham said.
Jefferson voters will finalize the budget at a future budget meeting and vote on the final budget at referendum in the coming months.
In committee elections, Westrich was re-elected chair, Joan Jackson was elected vice-chair, and St. Cyr was elected to be the committee’s representative to the AOS 93 board.