WESTBROOK – The Westbrook School Committee last week removed a projected 1 percent raise for teachers, staff and administrators from its 2010-11 budget now under development.

Eliminating the projected raise reduced the budget by about $400,000. The School Committee is now proposing a $33.2 million budget, which is up $217,500, or 0.7 percent, from last year. Superintendent Reza Namin said the proposed budget would raise property taxes by 0.5 percent.

“This budget reflects our values,” Namin said at the meeting. “We want to support our classrooms and we want to support our kids and their aspirations.”

The Westbrook Education Association, which comprises teachers, staff and administrators unions, is still negotiating a contract, but its president, Joan Harmon, said the School Committee’s decision would not sit well with employees.

“I’m not sure that this was probably the best way to even out your budget, making this huge cut from your staff members,” Harmon said at the meeting.

Namin had included a projected 1 percent raise in the budget he originally proposed, but School Committee members voted 5-2, with Emily Serway and Sue Bearor opposed, to remove that figure in order to keep the property tax increase to a minimum.

Coming into last week’s meeting, the budget reflected an increase of $600,000 from last year. In looking at the list of budgeted items to revisit before the public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, after American Journal deadline, board members agreed that eliminating raises would be imperative for keeping the tax increase low.

“I think that we’re staring hard, cold reality in the face here,” said School Committee member Greg Smith. “Nowhere can we find anywhere close to $600,000.”

Harmon said she expected school department employees would be coming forth with ideas about other places the committee could cut the budget at the public hearing.

During the meeting last week, the board made other small adjustments to the budget.

It removed about $1,140 meant to purchase four iPods for Westbrook Middle School. Principal Brian Mazjanis explained that the iPods would be used for students to download audio books to listen to in the school’s library.

“They are able to access content that’s above their grade level,” said School Committee member Emily Serway, who supported retaining the funds.

Board members Ed Symbol and Alex Stone questioned why the books couldn’t be downloaded to students’ laptops instead. Mazjanis explained that, because of copyright laws, the books couldn’t be downloaded to multiple machines.

The committee voted 4-3 to remove the funding.

Committee member Maria Dorn requested to remove $300 allotted for a presentation and training program for the guidance department, conducted by Sweetser.

“Why are we bringing Sweetser in to do the training when we have more-than-competent staff to do the training?” she said. “Our guidance department is accredited and nationally recognized.”

The committee voted unanimously to eliminate the money.

There was no money budgeted for next year’s high school graduation ceremony, and, after a discussion by the committee, it remained that way.

Last year, the School Committee removed $4,000 that previously had been budgeted to hold the graduation at Merrill Auditorium, anticipating that it would be held this year at the new Westbrook Performing Arts Center at the middle school instead.

But that didn’t sit well with seniors, who said graduating at Merrill was important to them, mainly because it could hold more of their guests. Local businesses Idexx Laboratories and Disability RMS offered up donations to fund the Merrill Auditorium ceremony this year.

Smith said funding graduation was among the topics he “can’t stand talking about every year.”

Committee members agreed not to add the money back in, but instead to refer the issue to the board’s policy committee.


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