PTO head: Brunswick school budget gets it wrong

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BRUNSWICK — The extent of past school budget cuts became clear Wednesday night as the School Board held its first workshop on the fiscal 2013 budget and a nearly $3 million deficit.

Teachers and administrators presented draft budgets for English as a second language, alternative education and gifted and talented programs, all of which have been hit by several years of cutbacks.

The gifted and talented program has been rolled back to focus primarily on third- through fifth-grade students, with limited support offered at Brunswick Junior High School. Because the high school offers Advanced Placement, the program has never had as much of a presence there.

But kindergartners and first-graders at Coffin Elementary, who used to received weekly visits from the gifted and talented teachers, no longer have access to the program at all, something teacher Pete Stevens described as having “pretty big ramifications.”

“There’s a huge swath of parents who are not at all happy with what we’re doing,” said Stevens, who teaches math in the gifted and talented program. “We had to make a decision … were we going to try to stick our finger in the dike all over the place, or were we going to focus on one area and do it well?”

Dana Bateman, president of the parent teacher organization at Coffin, also agreed the town is “getting it wrong” with gifted and talented at that school.

“We should be looking at adding staff back into the equation for the G&T program,” she said, not considering further cuts.

It’s not clear at this point if the program is on the chopping block, and the administration is requesting the same budget it has for the past five years: $28,800, not including teacher salaries.

The town’s alternative education program has also been cut back and demand exceeds the available space. Last year, 22 students were recommended for the program at the junior high school, but there was only space for seven. Next year isn’t looking much better: 17 students are vying for seven spots.

Paul Austin, director of student services, said the overflow students stay in the classroom.

“With only one teacher and one ed tech, they can’t serve them all,” he said.

To cope with demand, he’s asking that another education technician be added to the program’s staff. Not including salaries, Austin is asking for $1,470 for alternative education.

Two programs, ESL and the Union School, a career-oriented high school alternative, are slated to lose one staff position each.

Due to declining enrollment, ESL may lose one of its three resource assistants, a saving of about $41,000 in salary and benefits, in next year’s budget. The Union School could lose its ed-tech, which Austin said would result in fewer small group activities but wouldn’t impact the number of students served.

The next budget workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 22 at Brunswick Station and will cover kindergarten through eighth-grade regular instruction.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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