The Regional School Unit 3 Board of Directors approved a budget after adding funding for a full-time teacher to continue garden programs underway at four elementary schools. The total proposed budget is $20,654,000, a 1.95-percent increase.

This is the last year of a FoodCorps garden program that began in 2012 at Walker Elementary School with a grant written by Principal Glen Widmer. An AmeriCorps program, FoodCorps sends volunteers to schools to lead year-round sustainable gardening education and help teachers with hands-on greenhouse and garden projects.

Garden programs have since spread to Troy Central, Morse and Monroe elementary schools. In a previous budget draft, a position to carry on the programs was budgeted as a $43,000 Ed Tech 3. The Finance Committee eliminated that position in the budget it presented at the April 10 board meeting, and instead budgeted $3,000 in stipend funds for teachers to develop a curriculum and vision for the programs. The committee recommended this be done before hiring a new staff person.

Board member Jesse Hargrove of Thorndike reported the Finance Committee was concerned an Ed Tech 3 might look to the board or school administrators for leadership, guidance and training in the garden programs, which are also losing a passionate leader in Glen Widmer, principal of Walker and Troy elementary schools.

Widmer has been hired as principal of Capt. Albert Stevens School in Belfast, succeeding retiring Principal Jody Henderson, and will start that position July 1.

Board member Stanley Paige Zeigler of Montville proposed an amendment to reinstate the Ed Tech 3 position, which failed by a vote of 4-5. Board member Lisa Cooley of Jackson then offered an amendment to add a full-time elementary teacher position instead, at a cost of $70,000.

Some board members felt more time was needed to research the proposal. Board member Garret Hubbard of Knox said it was a “kneejerk reaction,” and argued that using money and a teacher to solve the problem would mean no outside resources — such as the nonprofit Maine School Garden Network or the state’s Farm to School Program — would be pursued.

Board member Frank Champa of Brooks said he was concerned the right person to lead the program would not be found.

“Just throwing money and a person at this problem is like building a ship without having plans,” he said.

Concerns were also raised about the lack of a job description for the position, but Hargrove said, “I would challenge you to find a complete job description for any educator.”

Superintendent Paul Austin urged board members to vote for the program they want, and leave developing a job description and hiring the right person to administrative staff.

Discussion shifted, however, and more board members began to express support. Cooley argued the position is a continuation and advancement of an existing program. Troy representative Rachel Katz said the program grew from grassroots and now needs board support. Waldo representative Matthew Littlefield said a teacher would be better suited for the position than an Ed Tech. Hargrove said he has always supported a full-time teacher for the role.

The amendment passed by a 6-3 vote.

Cooley also proposed an amendment to shift a $65,000 placeholder slotted for upgrading math curriculum materials to hiring a math coach to reform how math is taught in the schools.

“The problem is not that we have kids who are struggling with math,” she said, “The problem is that we have kids who hate math.”

She suggested it would take more than updated curriculum materials to change the “culture of test-prep” at the school, and that project-based learning with an authentic orientation is needed to change students’ attitudes.

Assistant Superintendent Jean Skorapa spoke from the audience about a committee of math teachers working to find updated curriculum resources. She said current resources do not align with Common Core standards. The committee is working on recommendations for the $65,000 allocation; so far they list resources, materials and professional development. Farther down the list of suggestions is a math coach, Skorapa said.

The amendment failed, 1-4.

The budget passed with a vote of 7-2. Littlefield and Cooley voted no.

After the meeting, which ended at 9:15 p.m., Principal Matthew Houghton of Morse and Monroe elementary schools said he was very happy with the vote for the garden teacher position.

"It kind of landed in my lap and I wasn’t prepared at all," he said by phone April 11. "It's a great opportunity to make a more firm connection to gardens and greenhouses and outside education, and I’m excited."

A public budget meeting will be held May 24, with the budget validation referendum set for June 13.

In other business, Austin reported two coaching appointments: Justin Barnes as Mount View High School junior varsity baseball coach, and David Page as Mount View Middle School assistant coach. He also reported resignations of Walker Elementary School second-grade teacher Jamie Davis and MVHS English teacher Carinne Haigis, as well as that of Widmer.