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Four Vie for 2 Newport Board Seats

The Newport school district meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 12, with voting at the Newport Opera House from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Newport — Two incumbents are among the four candidates seeking two, three-year seats on the School Board at this year’s annual school district meeting.

Karen Little, who is completing her first year on the board, and Linda Wadensten, recently appointed following the resignation of Howard Shultz, are being challenged by Daniel Bailey and Scott Ayen.

Heidi North is running uncontested for a two-year seat. Incumbent Gordon Flint Jr. is not running again.

Bailey and Ayen said they are running to serve their community and help the school district continue to improve education.

“This would be an opportunity for me to see that the best interests of the children are served,” said Bailey, who works as an information technology administrator at Dartmouth College.

With three children in the Newport schools, Bailey said he is interested in the curriculum, particularly art.

“I think it is an important part of a well-rounded education and there is real value in and benefits to it,” said Bailey.

Ayen, who like Bailey is in the information technology field, said he is eager to serve his community.

“The big reason (I’m running) is I would like to get involved in the community,” Ayen said. “I want to get the school district to continue toward more cooperation with teachers, the School Board, parents, students and the community and build a culture of learning.”

Little was elected when the board was coming off a tumultuous year that included two board members quitting in anger, the interim superintendent being dismissed in a late night meeting and the high school principal charged with, but not prosecuted on, an alleged misdemeanor assault against a student.

Little said she has been part of a board that has brought stability and focus back to the district.

“That is a good thing,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed working with the new administration and I think we have gotten organized the past year and put an end to the turnover.”

Little serves on the policy, professional development and technology committees. “So I have interaction with the teachers, and I’m impressed with their enthusiasm and dedication,” she said.

Little also said board members have updated and rewritten a number of school district policies. “I think that will pay dividends. You need that structure in place.”

Wadensten could not be reached for comment.

As directed by the School Board, the administration’s proposed $17.8 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 carries no spending increase from this year and would lower the school property tax rate by 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

SAU 43 Business Manager Chuck Stuart said there are several reasons why the district was able to keep spending flat, despite a combined increase in state retirement and health care costs of roughly $460,000. Stuart said five teacher retirements cut $440,000 from the budget, which included salary and benefits, and only two of those positions were filled, and at lower salaries.

In other areas, including speech, occupational therapy and nursing services, there was a consolidation of services based on needs, Stuart said. The assistant principal’s position at Towle School also was eliminated. Debt service is down $75,000 and library and media services decreased $45,500. There were some additions, including guidance, which went up $113,000 to allow for counselors at all district schools and computer assisted instruction, up $105,000.

“After that it is shaving a little from here and there, including supplies,” Stuart said.

Offsetting the projected decrease in the property tax rate are increases for a one-year teacher’s contract ($65,639) that would add 16 cents to the rate, and a one-year support staff contract ($29,353) that would add about 7 cents. If the contract were approved, teachers would get a half-step increase or roughly $500 to $600 a year.

If all the articles affecting the tax rate are approved as recommended, the overall school tax rate is projected to fall 8 cents to $15.22 per $1,000 of assessed value.

That breaks down between a local school tax rate increase of about 8 cents to $12.79 and a projected 16-cent decrease in the state education rate to $2.43. With a combined rate of $15.22, annual school taxes on a property assessed at $150,000 would drop $12 to $2,283.

Voters will also be asked to put any surplus from the current year’s budget into an unanticipated special education reserve fund ($100,000) and the school renovation reserve fund ($100,000). An article to put the same amount into transportation reserve fund was cut to $1 at the deliberative session. The budget committee opposes all three reserve fund articles.

Article 10 would create a capital reserve fund for field purchase and put $10,000, also from any surplus, into the fund.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.