CONWAY — Members of the Municipal Budget Committee appear pleased with the budget school officials have brought forward for 2012-13. They had only a handful of questions when they met last week with superintendent Carl Nelson and his administrative team.
"I think overall they did a pretty good job with the budget," Karen Umberger, of the 17-member budget committee, said during a two-hour meeting in the Professional Development Center at Kennett Middle School last Wednesday. "They've made some progress."
Thanks to some persistent negotiations, the school district will get a substantial break on its health insurance premiums for the 2012-13 school year. Nelson informed the Conway School Board that insurance rates have been revised, bringing the proposed school budget down an additional $550,017.
The new proposed budget figure is $31,901,212, which is $1,138,630 less than the previous year's $33,039,842. The total does not include 22 warrant articles that total over $1.5 million.
The estimated tax rate, excluding separate special articles, is $10.55 per $1,000 of property valuation, representing a decrease of 69 cents per $1,000 of property valuation from the previous year.
Nelson projected if all of the warrant articles were to be voter approved, it would represent an overall tax increase of 44 cents per $1,000 of property valuation, raising the tax rate to $11.37 per $1,000 of property valuation or a 1.17 percent increase.
Umberger did have a question about a warrant article seeking funding for a sous chef position at Kennett High. The position was previously funded through a Carl Perkins federal grant which is no longer available. The article seeks $35,498 to 70 percent fund the position while the remaining 30 percent would be generated through funds raised at the school's Mineral Springs Cafe.
"What does this mean for next year, why is it so important?" Umberger asked.
Lori Babine, director of the MWV Career and Technical Center, explained the sous chef position was funded initially by a Perkins grant for three years and then she was able to get a one-year extension which the district can no longer apply for. The initial intent was for revenue from the Mineral Springs Cafe to cover the position, but that has not happened and in all likelihood will not.
The cafe, site of the culinary arts program under the umbrella of the MWV Career and Technical Center at Kennett High School, is thriving. Now in its fifth year, the program has become so popular that there's actually a student waiting list to take the course.
The school board last year spring was considering a warrant article seeking $28,700 (half of the employee's salary and benefits package), representing an additional 2 cents per $1,000 valuation, but did not have to go that route. Nelson informed the board last March the district was receiving a federal grant for over $100,000, and that money can be used to fund positions such as the sous chef.
Babine told budgeteers the student-run restaurant is only open three days a week for 90 minutes at a time. The restaurant has been able to increase its revenues by expanding its commercial catering along with providing dinner to Eagle Academy students through a grant the district received.
Babine said the restaurant would need to be open five days a week for more than 90 minutes at a time to approach the funds needed.
"It's difficult to get the hours up there," she said. "We're not a full-service restaurant, we're a learning lab."
Currently the culinary program is run by Richard Mattei, who oversees the culinary program, and he is assisted by sous chef Tim Remillard in the kitchen.
"The sous chef is a mentor," Babine said. "The second person has allowed us to increase the enrollment in the program. If we only had one set of eyes it would not allow us to function as we do."
Umberger wondered if revenue at the cafe picked up, could that go to offset future costs.
"If we are able schedule differently or pick up more business, it could go to offset the salary," Nelson said.
Mike DiGregorio, selectmen's representative to the budget committee, supports the sous chef position.
"If anybody paid any attention to what they do up there, it's a phenomenal program," he said. "I personally know of a ton of kids who have gone through that program. The program isn't just teaching kids how to wait on tables, but how to manage a restaurant. It is definitely teaching kids. I'd encourage you all to go up there, spend some time and you'll appreciate the program."
There are few important dates on the budget calendar.
* Feb. 15: The municipal budget committee hearing on the school budget will be held in the Loynd Auditorium at Kennett High School at 7 p.m. following the precincts and town budget hearings which begin at 6 p.m.
* Feb. 16: The budget committee will vote on the school, town and precinct budgets in the Conway Professional Development Center at 6:30 p.m.
• Feb. 22: The filing period for town and school offices begins and runs through March 2 at 5 p.m. at Conway Town Hall.
* March 5: The deliberative session of Conway School District annual meeting will be held in the Loynd Auditorium at Kennett High at 7 p.m.
* On April 10, the voting portion of Conway School District annual meeting will take place at the Conway Community Building in Center Conway from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.