BATH — Nearly 70 voters on Tuesday approved a Regional School Unit 1 budget for fiscal year 2020, but not without adding a position to address student behavior problems at Woolwich Central School.

The almost two-hour district budget meeting May 28 at Bath Middle School was the first of two public approvals required for budget implementation in RSU 1. A budget validation referendum will be held June 11 in Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich.

The $33.9 million budget is up $3.8 million, or 12.55%, due largely to $3.4 million in debt service toward the construction of a new Morse High School.

Offsetting expenditures is $13.1 million in state subsidy, which includes $2.3 million toward debt service. With all revenues subtracted, the remaining $18.7 million will be assessed to the RSU 1 communities – a 2.28% increase.

Voters added two amounts to the budget: more than $118,800 for the Bath Career and Technical Center, which RSU 1 administrators expect to be matched by state funding, and $50,000 for a full-time social worker at Woolwich Central School.

Mitigation of student behavioral issues at that school sparked the most discussion at the meeting, and two calls for line-item amendments.

Abigail Bean of Woolwich called for a WCS behavior interventionist – which administrators budget at $75,000, including benefits – to be added to the $5.9 million special education line item.

Teachers with whom she and other parents have communicated have seen the need for such a position, she said.

“Many of us have children in fourth grade” at the school, Alison Cosgrove of Woolwich said, noting that her daughter has gone from loving school to not wanting to attend.

“School is where we should learn, first and foremost,” she said. “But how can you learn when people are getting punched in their classroom, when things are getting thrown, when the classroom environment is so chaotic you can’t think?”

“It’s about safety and emotional well being,” Cosgrove added.

Kyle Beeton of Woolwich, a former WCS teacher for two years, opposed the new position. He said “while there are going to be (behavior issues) at every school, one of the things that came across very clearly was that when teachers want to address behavior at that school, there was no support” from Principal Jason Libby.

“No matter what sort of money we throw at behavior problems at Woolwich, nothing is going to change while Jason Libby is the principal,” Beeton said.

Several parents immediately lined up at the microphone to express support for the position, and to defend Libby, who later declined to comment on Beeton’s statement.

“We support the school, we support Mr. Libby,” Kristen Cahill of Woolwich said, noting that she volunteers in the school and witnesses “the behaviors, I see the emotional instability with these kids. They need help, they need a set program in place for them. … We need somebody that’s dedicated to that.”

Cara Kilton, president of the Woolwich school’s parent-teacher association, said she has “worked very closely with Mr. Libby for a long time, and there has not been any person that has fought harder for my children.”

“This is not a lack of care, this is not a lack of education from the staff, it’s that they don’t have the support that they need,” Kilton added.

Danielle Bailey of Bath, who has been a substitute teacher at several RSU 1 schools, said she did not know if a new position would address behavioral problems there, and it is critical that parents address those issues at home.

“These teachers are not babysitters; they are there to teach,” Bailey said. “If any teacher has an issue with my child, I address it at home, and the teacher knows they can call me.”

The issues are “not something that’s coming from the school environment,” Bailey added. “It’s coming from home, then it’s being transferred into the school environment. So you have to handle both of them.”

The amendment failed narrowly by a show of hands, 29-26, as counted by meeting moderator John Morse. The motion then passed as originally proposed.

Cosgrove moved to amend the $3 million student and staff support line to add a full-time social worker at WCS, geared as before toward addressing behavioral issues.

Although RSU 1 budgets each position for $75,000, Cosgrove – a school social worker – said she thought the role could be filled for $50,000, and called for that amount to be added to the line item.

WCS is hiring for a soon-to-be-vacant social worker position, whose services are provided by Sweetser, a behavioral health care organization, Libby said.

But because that agency bills insurance, it does not take students who lack insurance, and those are often youths who have unstable housing and need help the most, Cosgrove said.

With a second full-time social worker added, “probably we would have the need to keep both quite busy,” Libby said.

Voters ultimately approved the motion at the amended amount.

Of the $18.7 million to be assessed to RSU 1’s four communities, Bath would be taxed $10.7 million, an increase of 2.84%; Arrowsic $494,000, down 10.11%; Phippsburg nearly $3 million, up 0.17%, and Woolwich $4.4 million, up 3.99%.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

The Regional School Unit 1 district budget meeting, Tuesday, May 28, at Bath Middle School, drew 68 voters from the four RSU 1 communities.

Abigail Bean, left, and Alison Cosgrove were among Woolwich parents calling for a behavior interventionist to be added at Woolwich Central School at Tuesday’s Regional School Unit 1 district budget meeting at Bath Middle School.