Stephen Seymour has taught kindergarten at Raymond Elementary School for six years. Early this month, he found out his days there could be numbered.

“I’m very disappointed. I’ve worked very hard to make connections to the community and families. To have that pulled out from in front of you is a little difficult,” said Seymour.

Seymour is not alone, as two other positions are slated for elimination in the school budget Raymond voters will consider in June.

Raymond residents will have the opportunity to give input on the budget at a March 31 public meeting to be held at the Jordan Small Middle School cafeteria at 7 p.m. Based on the outcome, the school board is scheduled to finalize the budget on April 2.

Theresa Sadak, chairman of the Raymond School Committee, said the proposed operating budget for the 2008/09 school year is 9.2 million, up almost 1 percent from last year’s budget.

“There’s a little bit of everything that we have cut, and we were trying not to hit one area harder than the rest,” said Sadak.

An increase of less than 1 percent is very conservative, considering the reduction of education subsidies from the state, and rising costs of utilities, especially fuel for heat and transportation. As far as Seymour is concerned, it may be too conservative.

“Keeping everything at 0 percent growth is a little unrealistic,” said Seymour, though he added he understands taxpayers are not necessarily willing to have their taxes raised substantially.

Randy Crockett, principal at Jordan Small Middle School, said this year enrollment at the middle school was down by about 20 students, and enrollment at the elementary school was down about 40 students. With falling numbers, eliminating teaching positions makes sense, especially when money is tight.

“The staff understands the bind we are in as a school district, and they understand what is going on at the state level,” said Crockett. But losing a teacher is still difficult.

“We have a lot of positive comments from parents about how good the teacher is with their child and all the wonderful things he has done with the science program,” said Crockett, who declined to identify the teacher.

“Is it worth the tax increase to maintain the schools as they are now? That’s something everyone in town needs to ask,” said Crockett.

Alizah Shriver, who is a parent of two children, one at Raymond Elementary School, and one at Jordan Small Middle School, believes it is. With staff cuts, Shriver said the standard for education in Raymond will be going down.

“It’s devastating. It really is,” said Shriver, who is the head of the Raymond Parent Teacher Organization. She said that many parents are “outraged” by the staff cuts, and wish the town could rehire one or two teachers.

“What would happen if we raised taxes just a little tiny bit to help out?’ said Shriver.

On Wednesday night, the school board met with the school committee to review changes to the budget. Last week, the school board had a conference call during a meeting with some members of the Raymond school administration.

Teachers were frustrated with cuts that affected supplies, and the school board gave them the opportunity to give input on what was absolutely needed to effectively teach next year.

The result, said Sadak, was that about $39,000 was added into the budget. Although it was not possible to put a teaching position back into the budget, Sadak said they were happy to be able to give staff the supplies needed.

“It was like a little Christmas present last night, and we were so glad to do it,” said Sadak.

However, the increase is subject to the approval of the Raymond Budget Committee, which was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to review the proposed budget.

When asked about the $39,000 increase to the school budget, Olsen said he could not specifically address it until Wednesday night’s meeting, which came after press time.

“That’s part of why we have the hearing with them so we can go through it and see what decisions were behind each item,” said Olsen.

Olsen did say that frugality is important this budget cycle, with state funding cutbacks, and a higher county tax bill.

“I’m pleased that they have taken the approach they have and looked at areas where they can make cuts, but the question is ‘Are they enough and are they in the right places’?” said Olsen.

As for elimination of teaching staff position, Olsen agrees that it is appropriate based on declining student enrollment. He speculated that the Raymond population is aging, and the population growth is naturally leveling.

The district is planning to consolidate with the Windham School Department in two years, and when the time comes, Olsen said the population at Raymond schools could be bolstered by enrollment of Windham students, which would create demand for more teachers.

“It’s not inappropriate to cut positions this year and then bring them back when we bring in other students,” said Olsen.

Stephen Seymour, a kindergarten teacher at Raymond Elementary School, is one of three teachers who could lose their jobs should voters approve the proposed school district budget in June.


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