FARMINGDALE — It won’t be decided until June 23 whether Hall-Dale schools will keep two full-time nurses and a foreign language program for elementary students.

The Hallowell City Council approved a tax hike last week to prevent the cuts, but in Farmingdale the issue must go to voters at town meeting.

The school board of Regional School Unit 2 — which includes Farmingdale and Hallowell, as well as Dresden, Monmouth and Richmond — has approved a budget with about $900,000 in cuts, including $138,784 for two foreign language teachers and a half-time nursing position for Hall-Dale schools.

Hallowell and Farmingdale have the option of making extra contributions to the school district to reverse the cuts, which the Hallowell City Council approved at the request of several parents and other residents at a meeting last week.

Based on property valuations, Farmingdale would pay 46 percent of the cost of the foreign language teachers and nurse, and Hallowell would pay 54 percent. That amounts to $63,646 for Farmingdale and $75,138 for Hallowell.

Farmingdale’s Board of Selectmen also discussed the issue at a recent meeting and decided to put the question to voters on the town meeting warrant for June 23, select board Chairman David Sirois said.

RSU 2’s budget referendum is June 12, but Superintendent Virgel Hammonds said Farmingdale’s June 23 town meeting would give the district adequate time to reverse the staff reductions if Farmingdale approves an additional contribution.

Hall-Dale High School Spanish teacher Jennifer Rasmussen-Norton, who said at the Hallowell City Council meeting that the district’s world languages department is “ready to rally the troops,” said that teachers, parents and students will work hard to convince Farmingdale voters to OK the funding.

“Definitely it’s a broader base that we need to reach, and it is up to those people in the town of Farmingdale to decide what they want their tax dollars to be spent on,” Rasmussen-Norton said.

She said that many of her students have decided on their own to create posters to hang in businesses around Farmingdale, Hallowell and Gardiner, and several recent graduates are getting involved, too.

Hall-Dale is the only elementary school in the district offering foreign language. Students take a trimester each of Spanish, French and Japanese every year until fifth grade, when they choose one language to study.

Eliminating a half-time nursing position, which Hammonds has said will probably affect the high school and middle school campus, would bring Hall-Dale schools’ student-to-nurse ratio more in line with that of RSU 2’s other communities, which are still below the 800-to-1 ratio used in the state’s funding formula for schools.

Sirois said he understands the questions of equity that went into the RSU 2 school board’s decision.

“From my standpoint, I can see where this is probably the right thing to do for the school district because it’s right in line with what they did in Monmouth, with the shop program,” Sirois said. “They offered them the local option as well.”

Monmouth Academy had RSU 2’s only industrial arts and home economics programs until the school district decided to eliminate them two years ago. At the time, one school board member said Monmouth residents had the option to pay for the programs if they wanted to.

Dresden residents pay extra taxes for partial support of a librarian and a nurse at Dresden Elementary School.

Hallowell residents and councilors who spoke at last week’s meeting said they worry about the district setting a precedent of not paying for programs specific to one or two communities.

Hammonds said he hopes district officials will not have to start going regularly to towns for gifts to reverse budget cuts.

Hammonds said he and other officials had hoped to extend foreign language to the other elementary schools, and if Farmingdale and Hallowell pay for it this year, it will give the school district time to look for other resources.

“We’re talking about a fantastic foreign language program in Hall-Dale that has just been tremendous for our kids,” Hammonds said. “If we can retain that and look at ways to retain the program in the future through grants or other revenue streams, we’re going to look at doing that.”

While cutting the program at Hall-Dale, the proposed school district budget extends foreign language classes to Richmond Middle School. They are already offered at Hall-Dale and Monmouth middle schools.

The district has applied for a $30,000 grant from the Japan Foundation to help pay the cost, and Hammonds said he has a verbal pledge from a resident to contribute $26,000. He declined to identify the potential donor.

If both of those funding sources come through, it would reduce Farmingdale’s share to $37,965 and Hallowell’s to $44,819.

Sirois said he has received several phone calls from parents and residents, especially about the health and safety implications of losing a full-time nurse at one of the schools.

People opposed to a tax hike have also been vocal, he said.

Sirois said paying for the foreign language program and nurse will be expensive, but he thinks Farmingdale should continue to support them.

“We’ve been doing the language program for around 20 years, and if we were still under (a school administrative district) system, we would be funding it today ourselves, anyway,” he said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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