LITTLE COMPTON — Olive Allen is a 12-year-old seventh grader in Wilbur & McMahon School, so when she stood at the podium in a packed Town Hall Friday evening to talk to the Little Compton School Committee about next year’s budget, people listened.
“I wanted to say how we spent all this money on 200 laptops and 300 iPads, and that Mrs. Pineau should be kept, because she teaches us how to use them,” she explained later.
Olive’s worries about the fate of her computer science teacher (and he coach) were widely shared at back-to-back meetings at 5 and 6 p.m., February 28, when the Little Compton School Committee heard from the public and later voted on a proposed budget for next year.
Jobs are at stake
After all the comments were in, the school committee voted 3-2 to hike its recommended budget for next year by $79,754 to $6.9 million, a jump that included the maximum allowable four percent increase in the town’s appropriation under the state tax-cap legislation.
The motion to increase the recommended budget was made by committee vice-chairman David Beauchemin, and seconded by Tom Allder. Also voting for the motion was Chairman Donald Gomez. Voting against were Joe Quinn and Peg Bugara.
The school’s recommended budget goes next to the town budget committee, which will hold a hearing about it on Tuesday, April 1 at 6:30 in the Town Hall Council Chambers.
School Committee Chairman Gomez said Saturday that the 4 percent budget approved by the school committee “is a number we’re going to start with. I’m pretty sure the final number will not be four percent. It may be two percent. Who knows? There are cushions in the budget. We all know that.”
The crowd Friday night of nearly 75 — mostly parents and a number of teachers and school supporters — clearly favored the school committee vote.
Going into the meeting — and before the maximum allowable increase in the town’s recommended share was voted on — the proposed budget of $6.89 million called for a decrease of 1.5 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions, and recommended a town appropriation of just 2.73% over last year. After the vote, the recommended total figure was $6.97.
Teacher layoffs drew fire from speakers.
Last year non-renewal notices went out to nine teachers. This year 15 went out. There are currently 31 teachers.
“Why don’t you embrace the 31 of us?” Jean Dunn asked the school committee. Ms. Dunn is the school nurse and heads the local teacher’s union.
Mr. Gomez responded, “There are so many less students.”
Cindy Pineau, 53, teaches computer technology to 2nd through 8th graders, and robotics. She is one of those who received a non-renewal notice this year, and has received such a notice the last two years in a row.
This year, however, her position has been proposed for complete elimination by School Superintendent Kathryn Crowley, a decision she only heard about second-hand after it was announced at a school committee meeting on Feb. 20.
She has been a teacher at Wilbur & McMahon for 10 years, before that was a teaching assistant for five years, and has lived in Little Compton for 27 years. Mrs. Pineau said she has contact with a daily average of 87 students.
Amy McGee said students need computer science training and, noting that the computer science position was proposed for elimination, asked, “What is the plan to provide computer science?
Jeremy Allen, Olive’s father, commented that four out of five members of the school committee don’t have their e-mail accounts operating, and suggested that maybe they needed help with the technology.
“We have a brand new library and no money in the budget for books,” said Dave Middleton. Mr. Middleton was referring to concerns that the books stored in a container at the town transfer station may have been damaged by mold and mice. No one seems to know.
One of the last to speak before the vote was taken was Joanne Mackenzie. “There is no reason not to be asking for the full four percent,” she told the school committee.
After the vote to ask for the full four percent was taken, School Committee member Joe Quinn made a motion to consolidate the two sections of second graders (one with 9 students, the other with 10) into one larger c lass of 19. The motion also included a reduction based on a possible lower enrollment projection (by four fewer students) in the high school classes for next year, and another reduction.
Mr. Quinn’s motion failed for lack of a second.