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Committee looks for cost savings

Board members object to proposed focus on special education services

PETERBOROUGH — A suggestion that the ConVal School District’s new District Study Committee could look for cost-saving opportunities by reviewing the district’s Special Education program drew fire from two School Board members at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The District Study Committee, which was formed last year, is made up of representatives of both the School Board and the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee. The group is intending to focus on review of the district’s Articles of Agreement and identifying areas where cost efficiencies could be found.

In his summary of the committee’s most recent meeting, District Study Committee Chair Tom Ferenc, a School Board representative from Peterborough, said that special education was one of the areas the group would be looking at. That brought an immediate response from School Board member Linda Quintanilha of Bennington.

“I’m concerned about the District Study Committee making a lot of assumptions about special education,” Quintanilha said, adding that special education requirements are very specifically defined by law and the needs of students are identified in individual education plans that determine the level of service they will receive.

“Special education is something you can’t mess with,” Quintanilha said. “It’s team driven. Efficiencies are not part of the discussion.”

Board member Jon Ingram of Peterborough said it’s unfortunate that special education costs often become a focus of discussion.

“Our job is to develop equitable practices for all students,” Ingram said.

“We have a responsibility to all our students,” Quintanilha said. “If we talk in terms of money and efficiencies, we’re not being equitable.”

Ingram said the role of the District Study Committee is to provide “a different lens” for looking at the district’s spending, but any recommendations will need approval from the School Board.

“They can’t make decisions without all of us,” he said.

Another suggestion that the District Study Committee offered was to study whether to outsource the payroll function at the SAU office.

Business manager Marian Alese said she was concerned about that idea, saying that the bulk of the work — gathering of information for payroll — would still fall on the staff at the SAU.

Ferenc said his report was just a summary of the discussion at the group’s latest meeting and no final decisions on where to focus attention had been made.

Board member Rich Cahoon of Antrim, who is on the District Study Committee, said other board members shouldn’t read too much into the report, because the committee is still in the early stage of its work.

Alese said that the School Board is currently holding a series of induction meetings for new board members that cover many of the issues facing the board and suggested that the Select Board members of the District Study Committee could be invited to attend those sessions. Ferenc said he would inform the Select Board members.

School Board representatives on the District Study Committee are Ferenc, Cahoon, Fiona Tibbetts of Dublin and Pierce Rigrod of Hancock. Select Board representatives are Scott Carbee of Francestown, Barbara Miller of Peterborough, John Robertson of Antrim and John Jordan of Hancock.

In other business:

∎  The board authorized the Budget and Property Committee to prepare and distribute a request for proposals for running the district’s food service program. In recent years, some board members have said the district could save money by outsourcing food service. The last time bids were obtained, the board chose to remain with its in-house program, which does offer benefits to food service employees. Alese said the request for proposals, which is very specific and based on state guidelines, is ready to go and the district would be able to evaluate responses in the fall, prior to preparing next year’s budget.

“It’s just one step in the process,” said Budget and Property Committee Chair Myron Steere.

∎  The board approved a new elementary school report card format, which will be used throughout the district this fall. Peterborough Elementary School Principal Ben Loi said that in the past each of the elementary schools used a different report card. The new format, Loi said, is in line with the district’s curricula, takes into account the requirements of the Common Core standards and will measure students’ progress throughout the year. Loi and Dublin Consolidated School Principal May Clark said the elementary school principals will be looking for feedback on the report card from parents and students after the first quarter of the year.

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