Attempt to lower proposed ConVal budget fails

  • ConVal Deliberative Session<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • John Kieley of Temple speaks in favor of an proposal to cut $1.1 million from the proposed ConVal operating budget.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • ConVal Deliberative Session<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • ConVal Deliberative Session<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Great Brook School students hold signs urging voters at the ConVal Delberative Session not to support a warrant article that would close the middle school in Antrim.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • ConVal Deliberative Session<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • ConVal Deliberative Session<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

PETERBOROUGH — A push to cut more than $1 million from the ConVal School District’s operating budget was soundly defeated by voters at the district’s Deliberative Session on Wednesday.

The meeting packed the South Meadow School gymnasium, drawing more than 500 voters, many of whom came not only for the budget discussion, but to weigh in on two competing warrant articles regarding possible closing of schools (see story on page 1).

John Jordan, a Hancock Select Board member who chairs the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee to the district, proposed cutting the gross budget from $45,448,301 to $44,300,000, saying the lower amount “is more than adequate to meet the needs of the district.”

Jordan said the district’s interest and principal payments were declining by more than $1 million under the proposed budget, so the 2.1 percent increase in the proposal for the 2013-2014 school year was too high.

Gail Cromwell, a former School Board member from Temple, spoke in favor of the amendment, saying that the district had not taken advantage of chances to save money on health insurance and the food service program.

“Bid out food service,” Cromwell told the School Board. “Two years ago, we got two bids that would have given us a break-even situation.”

During budget discussions prior to the Deliberative Session, School Board members had said they had reviewed the food service program in the past and were not going to reopen that discussion this year.

Temple Select Board member John Kieley said a committee formed to investigate insurance options after the most recent teacher contract was approved got support from the teacher’s association to look into reducing the number of plans offered in order to save money but the School Board and administration blocked efforts to switch.

“If we had been allowed to proceed, our health insurance cost would be $1.6 million less.” Kieley said. He said Temple chose to switch its health coverage from the Local Government Center to School Care, a decision that led to Kieley leaving the study committee.

“I was dismissed because the town of Temple had the audacity to pull out of the contract,” Kieley said.

ConVal Business Administrator Marian Alese told the Ledger-Transcript last week that the district got no competing bids last year on health insurance, probably due to the number of plans the district offers. She said talks are continuing with the teacher’s association and the district could possibly put the contract out to bid during the coming year.

During his presentation on the budget, School Board member Matt Craig of Sharon noted that the district will receive $762,000 less in adequacy aid from the state this year. Craig said that because the state no longer contributes to the mandatory retirement program for employees, the district’s retirement cost will rise by $653,000. Health insurance costs are budgeted to increase by $180,000, even with fewer employees being covered and higher employee contribution levels. And special education costs are expected to rise by $395,000 due to legally required out-of-district placements.

“It’s a swing of about $2 million in added costs,” Craig said.

The SAC proposal to cut the budget drew opposition from several speakers, including former School Board Chair Craig Hicks of Peterborough.

“The cost to run 11 schools is still chugging away in this district, but this is the same group that says don’t go near our elementary schools,” Hicks said, referring to the SAC. He said tying the School Board’s hands by cutting $1.1 million would certainly effect the quality of education.

Hicks suggested the problem lies with the cutbacks in state funding.

“We’re shouting at this group [the School Board] but the state has made promises it can’t keep,” Hicks said.

In the end, the SAC amendment failed on a ballot vote, with 347 voters opposed and 175 in favor. As a result, the original budget proposal, for $45.448,301, will appear on the ballot at the polls on March 12. If the budget fails, a default budget of $44,831,807 would take effect.

A petition article to establish a school resource officer position was placed on the budget with little discussion. Fran Chapman of Peterborough, who sponsored the petition, said a resource officer would be “the best safety insurance we can invest in.”

Voters also approved placing warrant articles on the ballot calling for $100,000 for the Special Education Trust Fund, $100,000 for the Building Capital Reserve Fund and $50,000 for the Health Insurance Maintenance Fund. The money for those articles would come from surplus funds, if available, at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

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