$45 million budget will fund new programs in ConVal

Voters in the ConVal School District approved a $45.4 million operating budget on Tuesday, by a margin of 2,278 to 1,940.

The budget, which includes a number of new programs and survived an attempt to cut it at the district’s Deliberative Session in February, received 64 percent approval in Peterborough and Hancock. It also got a majority of the votes in Antrim, Dublin, Francestown (by 3 votes) and Sharon. Bennington, Greenfield and Temple were the three towns to vote against the proposal.

“The budget is a real reason to celebrate,” ConVal School Superintendent Dick Bergeron said on Tuesday. “It’s certainly a step forward for the SAU and the district in terms of our priorities. We have the financial support we need.”

The budget includes $250,000 for salaries and benefits for nine teachers who are not currently full-time, in order to fund full-day kindergarten at all the elementary schools in the district. Last year a group of parents raised concerns about inequities they said result when some schools have a day-long program while others don’t.

The budget will also fund a preschool at Peterborough Elementary School, which will serve both preschoolers with identified educational needs and preschoolers whose parents will pay tuition. It is intended to accommodate some of the students who have been at the Pine Hill Child Care Center, a private program located at the high school that will be closing this year. The district plans to move alternative education students from leased trailers on the high school campus into the former Pine Hill Child Care space. High school students studying child care will be able to work at the PES preschool.

The budget also includes funding for an emotional support program at the middle school level and calls for adding an elementary health teacher, an additional school nurse and a computer systems technician to work at the elementary schools.

Bergeron said SAU officials were planning to take about a half hour to celebrate before they resume looking at options for making up an expected revenue shortfall for next year of at least $307,000, which occurred when a building aid reimbursement from the state that had already been received was included in the district’s revenue projections.

Bergeron expects to provide information at Tuesday’s School Board meeting on how the district can adjust for the shortfall without having to impact the district assessment — the amount that must be raised through taxation.

He said administrators plan to review what funds that have been carried over from fiscal year 2012 are available and also to study this year’s budget to see what line items are coming in lower than budgeted. He said the district does not pad its budgets, but sometimes money is not spent on specific items, even though it’s budgeted.

“We’ll let people know what lines are affected and why there are differences. All of the monies had intentions for expenditure,” he said.

Another revenue source could be through savings in health benefits, since the district budgets for health insurance at a guaranteed maximum rate provided by its carrier, and actual costs are usually lower.

Bergeron has said that he hopes not to have to draw on the district’s Special Education and Building Capital Reserve Trust funds, although that is also an option. Voters on Tuesday approved adding $100,000 to the special education fund, $100,000 to the building fund, and $50,000 to the district’s Health Insurance Maintenance fund, provided the money is available in the fund balance at the end of the school year.

In other results Tuesday, voters rejected a petition article calling for a school resource officer at ConVal High School. It was the third consecutive year that a request for an officer failed. None of the nine ConVal towns voted in support of the measure.

Voters also rejected a School Board sponsored proposal for establishing a school closing process and a petition article that would have closed Great Brook School in Antrim.

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

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