School Board hopes for smoother sailing this year

Detailed budget reviews are first step in preparing for future

PETERBOROUGH — At the first meeting of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee to the ConVal School Board in the wake of voters’ rejection of the board’s 2014 budget proposal, School Board member Myron Steere of Greenfield promised that things will be done differently in the coming year.

Steere, who will be serving as chair of the Budget and Property Committee this year, said he plans to have the committee more actively involved in budget preparation than it was last fall. He said the process will include a thorough review of the district’s plans for capital improvement projects.

“We’re going to look at everything in a much more detailed fashion,” Steere told the Select Board representatives at Thursday’s meeting. “The [voters] have spoken. We have to look at where we’re spending money.”

Temple Select Board member John Kieley said the school district’s strategic plan, which includes some information about long-range projects, isn’t particularly helpful.

“Would it be your goal to develop a legitimate capital improvement plan?” Kieley asked Steere.

Steere said that will be the Budget and Property Committee’s intent.

Francestown Select Board member Scott Carbee said the School Board needs to address the cost of benefits and the level of contribution that district employees make to their health insurance premiums during the next budget cycle. The School Board will be working this year with the ConVal Education Association to negotiate a new teachers’ contract, which will go before voters for approval in March 2015.

“If we want a contract to go through, it’s all the more important that the budget be acceptable to the voters,” Kieley said.

The School Board had announced plans to cut about $789,000 in order to reach the default budget number that kicked in when voters turned down the budget. Those reductions included eliminating six jobs, saving about $290,000 in wages and benefits, and cutting $499,999 in programs. Some of that might be restored, since the district recently learned that it will need about $300,000 less than budgeted for health insurance costs and catastrophic aid revenue from the state will be about $80,000 higher than expected.

Steere said the administration and School Board will be reviewing which cuts might be avoided at upcoming meetings, but no decisions had been made.

Tom Ferenc, a newly elected School Board member from Peterborough who is a high school principal in Vermont, will be serving as the board’s liaison to the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee. He said it will be important to look at the impact of staff cuts on the district’s educational programs.

“Every time you remove people, inevitably there’s an impact,” Ferenc said. “We just don’t know what may be lost here.”

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