Lyme — A large crowd at the annual Lyme School District meeting on Thursday night approved a $392,000 budget increase recommended by the School Board, but rejected a citizen initiative to expand the kindergarten class to a full-day program.
The plan, which would have shifted kindergarten’s daily end time to 3 p.m. from 12:30 p.m. at a cost of at least $58,000, failed on a 148-79 ballot vote after more than 90 minutes of discussion.
“Full-day kindergarten is not a bell or a whistle,” said resident Matt Prince, an advocate of the change. “In most communities, it is a standard of care.”
Prince and others in favor of the program cited academic studies showing districts that have made the switch have seen better educational outcomes for students, and said the number of towns that offer half-day programs is shrinking.
School Board Vice Chairman Jay Davis explained the board’s opposition to the measure.
He described it as “not a bad idea,” but said it didn’t align closely enough with the goals outlined in the planning documents that the board relies on to guide its decisions.
“It was not a significant enough priority for us, in a very difficult budget climate, as some other priorities in our strategic plan,” he said.
The board recommended that if the proposal did pass, voters also should approve an additional $49,000 to establish a trust fund for the program, and expand the school’s early literacy program.
Some opposed to the measure argued that the impact on the tax rate would make it even more difficult for low-income families, whose children benefit disproportionately from early instruction, to live in town.
But Ghislaine Dematteo, herself a low-income single mother of two, said she supports the initiative.
“I am here for the long haul. I work full time. I need those hours to be able to live here in Lyme,” she said.
A similar measure failed last year on a 68-62 vote.
Before that vote, administrators and school board members gave a budget presentation showing that the bulk of the budget increase — $285,000 — is due to added high school tuition costs, with most of the remainder attributed to mandatory retirement contributions ($57,000) and a staff reconfiguration that will add some positions and combine others.
Under the new budget, a part-time custodian, a special education instructor and an academic director will be added. Those costs will be partially offset by the impending retirement of part-time Superintendent Michael Harris, whose duties will be merged with those of Lyme School Principal Jeff Valence under the new title of district administrator, a position that will be filled by Valence.
Voters approved a $6.8 million operating budget, which represented an increase of 5.97 percent. That figure also includes about $40,000 in special education costs that were not on the initial warrant, but were added during the meeting because school officials said they had only recently become aware of them.
School Board members said the impact on the tax bill of a home valued at $250,000 will be $297.
The budget was approved after a failed effort by resident Rich Bradley to trim the proposed custodian position, which would have saved about $30,000.
“You could outsource the cost of cleaning the building for far less. ... It’s ludicrous,” Bradley said.
School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Glenshaw, who said the hire was necessary because of a recent expansion to the building, cast it as a cost-saving measure because, she said, the existing custodian is unable to take on maintenance projects that need to be contracted out.
“We are actually not doing some of the core work that needs to be done,” she said.
Resident Lee Larson also challenged the budget increase.
“Even those of us who don’t rely completely on Social Security don’t see anything like a 6 or 7 percent increases, and this has gone on now for more than this year, and it can’t continue,” he said. “My sense is this meeting is going to pass this budget, but it is just atrocious.”
During his presentation, Valence spoke about the long-term needs of the district, which he said will be shaped by a student population that is expected to grow. Between 2007 and 2016, he said, the median enrollment was 89 high school students, but between 2016 and 2024, the median enrollment is projected to be 115 students.
Most of the financial pain, he said, will be felt in a three-year period that began last year.
Voters also approved a three-year teacher contract that ties salary increases to the consumer price index, with a maximum raise of 4.5 percent, and a minimum of 1 percent. The contract is expected to cost $44,000 in the first year.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3211.
Voters at the annual Lyme School District meeting approved a $6.8 million operating budget that included an increase of 5.97 percent, or $392,000, and will increase the tax bill of a home valued at $250,000 by $297. An earlier version of this story incorrectly double-counted a last-minute $40,000 adjustment that was already reflected in Lyme budget numbers.