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SAC stepping up

The role of the ConVal School District’s Selectmen’s Advisory Committee is spelled out in one sentence in the district’s Articles of Agreement: “The committee shall have the responsibility to meet with the School Board for district financial planning, inputs and other matters of mutual interest.”

That leaves a lot of leeway. Over the years, the SAC has at times been relatively inactive — almost nonexistent in fact. And in recent years, the group has been confrontational. At meetings, members have aired gripes about the high cost of education, but they haven’t actively participated in the financial planning process. This past year, their input consisted mainly of a last-minute attempt to cut more than $1 million from the budget at the district’s Deliberative Session. The proposal was soundly defeated, perhaps because the SAC sponsors didn’t have any specific recommendations for where the cuts could come from.

Now we’re seeing signs that things could be changing.

Temple Select Board member John Kieley, one of the proponents of last year’s budget cutting proposal, will be serving as the SAC liaison to the School Board’s Budget and Property Committee and is planning to attend many of that group’s meetings as the budget process gets under way this fall. We’re confident he’ll make his opinions known. Meanwhile, School Board members Erik Thibault, Rich Cahoon and Myron Steere have been regular attendees at SAC meetings, answering questions from selectmen and relaying their concerns to the School Board.

And in the new spirit of cooperation, the School Board and the SAC have agreed to work together to study some of the larger issues facing the ConVal district. They’ve formed a new group, which they’re calling the District Study Committee, made up of both School Board members and SAC members. Francestown Selectman Scott Carbee, who will co-chair the group with Thibault, said last week that all options are on the table, but quickly qualified that by noting that the votes in March on two proposals related to school restructuring indicate that voters clearly support having elementary schools in all the small towns. And ConVal’s Articles of Agreement, which can only be modified by a 2/3 majority vote, present a challenge to any group seeking to significantly change the district’s structure. Be that as it may, not everyone agrees that the March vote should be interpreted as a no to closing elementary schools.

We chastised the SAC recently for taking so long to get its subcommittee organized, and it’s still unclear whether the subcommittee members will even attempt to come up with a plan to consolidate schools to deal with declining enrollment. But they may be able to focus on ways to identify and explain how the district’s budget is prepared and what factors drive costs up.

ConVal’s new school superintendent, Brendan Minnihan, is about to start his first budget season. Cahoon, Steere and some other School Board members appear quite eager to take a hard look at the district’s spending. We hope participation by Kieley and other members of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee will help the School Board create a budget that’s understandable, affordable and fair by the time next year’s Deliberative Session rolls around.

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