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CONVAL

Study still up in air

School Board seeking selectmen’s input

A joint committee made up of members of the ConVal School Board and the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee is still planning to take a fresh look at issues facing the ConVal School District. But the committee, which was proposed in late May, has yet to hold a meeting.

On Friday, Francestown Select Board Chair Scott Carbee, who has agreed to serve as co-chair for the group along with School Board member Erik Thibault of Peterborough, said he had not yet recruited three additional Select Board representatives to round out the committee.

“I haven’t kicked it off yet,” Carbee said in a phone conversation, adding that the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee did not hold a meeting in July. “My goal is to get hold of Eric so we can get up and running and draw up an agenda.”

Members of the School Board who have agreed to serve on the committee are Thibault, Fiona Tibbetts of Dublin, Rich Cahoon of Antrim and Pierce Rigrod of Hancock. Select Board members who agreed to serve are Carbee and John Kieley of Temple. Carbee agreed in May to recruit Select Board members from Bennington, Sharon and Greenfield, to ensure that each of the nine ConVal towns is represented.

Carbee said he wasn’t sure if the group would devote a lot of effort to developing a proposal that might address closing some schools.

“I’m sure we’ll talk about the physical plant, but it seems voters have chosen at the polls to continue with things the way they are,” he said, referring to votes at March’s district meetings, where both a proposal to consolidate with just one middle school and a plan recommended by the School Board that would have set up a 10-step procedure for the board to study closing a school failed to gain the two-thirds margin required for approval. Carbee said two School Board committees have spent significant effort in recent years studying issues related to declining enrollment, without coming to a recommendation that would meet voter approval.

“My question will be to look at the administration. I think that will be part of our mission,” Carbee said. State and federal mandates may have resulted in the need for more employees, he said, and the committee will want to know how many full-time positions are required by law.

“There’s no criticism. We just need to get information out to the people,” Carbee said.

He also said the loss of an industrial tax base has had a significant impact on both local towns and the school district, leaving little money available to discretionary spending.

“But if we’re going to become a high-performing district, that’s going to take some shekels,” Carbee said.

The Ledger-Transcript was unable to contract Thibault for comment on Friday or Monday morning, but Butch Estey, the ConVal School Board chair, said Monday that he expected the committee would make the question of whether to consolidate schools, and how to do it, the main thrust of its work.

“We want to find out if the selectmen can come up with ideas that they think might sell. We’re asking them for their help,” Estey said. “Towns do not want to give up their small schools. That’s a well-known fact. With that in mind, we want to get the dialog going with the selectmen. We’ve kind of exhausted our ideas.”

According to Carbee, no date has been set for the full committee to hold its first meeting.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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