Board, SAC to address schools
Committee to look at enrollment issue
PETERBOROUGH — Members of the ConVal School Board and the district’s Selectmen’s Advisory Committee are pledging to work together on one of the challenges facing the district — how to address declining enrollment in some towns’ small elementary schools
At a Selectmen’s Advisory Committee meeting on Thursday, three board members and eight SAC members agreed to form a committee to develop a plan that could get voter support if two towns in the district wanted to consolidate their elementary schools. Peterborough School Board representative Erik Thibault, who presented the idea of a joint committee to the SAC members, said any proposal for changes to elementary schools would have a much better chance of passage if both the School Board and the SAC were in support. In March, two alternative proposals for changes to the district’s Articles of Agreement were rejected by voters. One plan, endorsed by the School Board, would have set up a 10-step procedure for the School Board to study closing a school if it was operating well below capacity, with any recommendation for closing a school to be approved by voters. A second article, submitted by petition and endorsed unanimously by the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee, would have closed Great Brook School in Antrim and moved all middle school students to South Meadow School in Peterborough. Neither proposal got the 2∕ 3 majority required for approval.
At Thursday’s meeting, Thibault said those votes essentially put the district back to square one in dealing with school closings.
“Obviously, we were both slightly out of touch with the voters,” Thibault said to the eight Select Board members at the table. “If we could come up with a plan where we could come together, we could probably get it to pass.”
The district’s Articles of Agreement call for an elementary school in each town in the district except Sharon. Any change to the articles requires a 2∕ 3 margin of approval.
Thibault suggested that if two towns in the district were to agree to merge their elementary schools, and the voters in those towns were solidly behind such a plan, a warrant article to amend the Articles of Agreement could be drafted and presented to voters district wide. He used Francestown and Greenfield as an example where residents of the two towns might be in favor of a combined elementary school. Select Board members Scott Carbee of Francestown and Deb Davidson of Greenfield said those towns had actually proposed a combined school about 20 years ago, when the district built new elementary schools in several of the smaller towns, but the School Board at the time had not been receptive to the idea.
Myron Steere, a School Board representative from Greenfield, gave the SAC members a copy of a letter he recently sent to the School Board. In the letter, Steere proposed that the Articles of Agreement be modified to give each town control over the operating costs of it elementary schools and asked that a study committee be formed to evaluate how that would work.
“If each town were to pay the operating costs, each town could decide if they want to consolidate with a neighboring town,” Steere said at Thursday’s meeting.
Carbee wasn’t enthusiastic about having each town responsible for operating costs, saying that the towns consolidated in 1967 due to the challenges of each town having to own and operate its own school.
“My point is to get something started again,” Steere said.
After hearing Thibault’s suggestion for a committee made up of both board representatives and selectmen to work together on a proposal, SAC members agreed to participate.
Hancock Select Board member John Jordan, who chairs the SAC, said Friday that the committee will be made up of the entire SAC membership, plus three representatives of the School Board.
The group also discussed fuel oil costs, in response to a letter to Jordan from School Board Chair Butch Estey. “It seems from the SAC discussions that the towns are getting a better price,” Estey wrote, “I’m asking for the assistance of the SAC to get the best deal for our schools.”
Davidson and Dublin Select Board member Charlie Champagne said their towns don’t participate in a joint fuel-oil buying plan with ConVal.
“We get better prices on our own,” Davidson said.
Champagne said it isn’t practical for a small town like Dublin to prepay for fuel oil under a joint contract, but he said Dublin has gotten good prices by keeping close track of options.
“You can’t be loyal to any one company,” he said.
“You need a point person to keep track of trends in oil prices and lock in at the right time,” Jordan said.
The group recommended two people to work together on the project — Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett and ConVal Facilities Manager Tim Grossi. Peterborough Select Board member Barbara Miller said Bartlett would be able to participate and Estey and Thibault, representing the School Board, said Grossi could do so as well.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.