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ConVal School District

Select Board group won’t back school budget

Committee says towns need relief from growing school district budget; group also won’t support warrant article for parking lot

  • Members of the Selectmen's Advisory Committee to the ConVal School District voted not to support the School Board's proposed budget for 2014-2015
  • Members of the Selectmen's Advisory Committee to the ConVal School District voted not to support the School Board's proposed budget for 2014-2015
  • Members of the Selectmen's Advisory Committee to the ConVal School District voted not to support the School Board's proposed budget for 2014-2015

PETERBOROUGH —Members of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee voted unanimously last week not to support the $45,872,410 operating budget for 2014-2015 budget that the ConVal School Board is proposing. The proposal is an increase of a little less than one percent over the 2013-2014 budget, but SAC members say it is too high.

“We have a responsibility to our towns,” said SAC Chair John Jordan of Hancock at Thursday’s committee meeting at the SAU office. “We got hit hard last year. We have a shot here to make the budget more palatable.... I think we need to make a statement.”

Deb Davidson said she and her fellow Select Board members in Greenfield had a question for the School Board: “Can you please take a hit this year, and give the towns a break?”

Fiona Tibbetts of Dublin, the only ConVal School Board member at the meeting, said she and two other board members had voted not to support the final budget at a School Board meeting two days earlier. Tibbetts said she would like to see the district provide actual expense totals for the previous year when budget comparisons are prepared, which she said would give board members and voters a more accurate indication of where cuts could be made.

Committee member John Kieley of Temple said the School Board has proposed a budget and warrant articles that would, if passed, result in $1.6 million in capital expenditures. He said about $173,000 for various programs was added by the School Board after the initial budget was developed by SAU 1 administrators.

Kieley’s motion not to support the proposed budget passed unanimously, with little discussion.

Kieley then moved not to support the warrant article calling for $545,419 to rebuild the ConVal High School parking lot, with $300,000 of that amount coming from capital reserve funds. Peterborough Select Board member Barbara Miller said the condition of the lot actually serves as a traffic calming and Jordan said less expensive alternatives than a complete rebuild are possible. The motion also passed unanimously.

SAC members also unanimously voted not to support warrant articles to resurface the track at ConVal High School and to repave the access road leading from Route 202 to the back parking lots at South Meadow School.

The committee voted to support a proposed $45,000 warrant article to fund a replacement tractor for the district’s maintenance department. They also voted to recommend that the district’s deliberative session, where voters have an opportunity to amend the proposed budget prior to a final vote at the polls, be held on a Saturday, starting in 2015. In recent years, the deliberative sessions have been held on weeknights. This year’s deliberative session will be on Feb. 5, a Wednesday.

Jordan, who has been an SAC member for several years and regularly attends School Board meetings, said Monday that he couldn’t recall a previous formal vote by the SAC not to support a budget. In recent years, he said, the SAC has made a number of other attempts to reduce the budget, including motions at deliberative sessions.

“I’m hoping [the School Board] will listen and that they will consider some of the requests we’re making,” Jordan said.

On Monday, ConVal School Board Chair Butch Estey of Peterborough said he wasn’t surpised by the SAC votes.

“If you look at their track record over the years, they haven’t been very supportive, ” Estey said. “I think the board did an excellent job to staying under one percent.”

Estey said significant cuts to the budget would require to the board to make assumptions about future costs based on past numbers that might not be valid in the future. He also said that the decline in enrollment does not necessarily mean costs can be cut proportionally.

“It’s not all in one school. It’s not in individual classrooms,” Estey said. “People voted to keep all our schools open. It’s really hard to make major changes.”

Budget and Property Committee Chair Matt Craig also expressed concern about the vote.

“I was surprised and disappointed by the SAC vote,” Craig said in an email to the Ledger-Transcript. “ The superintendent, administration, and staff worked very hard and took some pain to keep the budget below one percent growth compared to last year.  I hope that the voters in our district look more closely at the data and numbers behind our proposed budget, and less at the vote of eight individuals when they decide whether to support it or oppose it.”

Jordan said SAC members plan to attend the School District’s public hearing on the proposed budget, which will be held tonight in the SAU meeting room at South Meadow School, to express their concerns about the budget. The hearing starts at 6 p.m.

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