Closing schools not on agenda
PETERBOROUGH — A joint committee formed to study options for the ConVal School District in response to declining enrollment will hold its first meeting on Thursday. The group, to be known as the District Study Committee, will be made up of ConVal School Board members and representatives of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee to the School Board, with one committee member from each of the nine ConVal towns.
Scott Carbee — the Francestown selectman who serves on the SAC and will co-chair the new group with School Board member Erik Thibault of Peterborough — said at Thursday’s SAC meeting that the group will take a broad look at issues facing the district.
“Everything is on the table,” Carbee said. “Taxpayers don’t really know how the full district works. I don’t think people understand the finances of the SAU. I don’t think they understand the massive nature of the transportation system.”
At the meeting, Carbee listed the people who will serve on the committee. In addition to Carbee and Thibault, members will include School Board representatives Rich Cahoon of Antrim, Pierce Rigrod of Hancock and Fiona Tibbetts of Dublin, and Select Board representatives Deb Davidson of Greenfield, Mike Darnell of Temple and Carl Newton of Sharon. The ninth seat, to be held by a Select Board member from Bennington, has not yet been filled.
Carbee said the committee was unlikely to suggest any changes to the district’s Articles of Agreement that could result in closing of elementary schools. He said the failure of a proposal at March’s District Meeting that would have set up a 10-step procedure for the School Board to study closing a school indicates that there’s little support for closing any of the six small-town elementary schools in the district.
SAC Chair John Jordan suggested that the district’s funding formula, which allocates expenses based 50 percent on the number of students from each town and 50 percent on the equalized valuation of each town, should be reviewed. He said changes in the way the state provides adequacy aid have benefitted some towns more than others.
Cahoon and School Board member Myron Steere of Greenfield said the committee should not consider any change that would result in charging more to towns that were getting adequacy aid from the state , which is based on financial need.
“The whole purpose of adequacy aid is to level the playing field,” Cahoon said.
SAC members also discussed how they should be involved in the district’s budgeting process, which begins in the fall with meetings of the Budget and Property Committee and continues through the fall and winter with reviews by the School Board and public hearings prior to the district’s Deliberative Session. In March this year, an effort by the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee to cut a bit more than $1 million from the proposed budget at the Deliberative Session was defeated, with just 175 voters in support while 347 were opposed.
“Let’s think about how we can have good interaction with the board during budget season,” said Jordan.
“A lot of people on the board want to make sure the budget’s right,” Steere said. “Any recommendations you have, let us know.”
Thursday’s meeting of the District Study Committee will be at 7 p.m. in the SAU boardroom at South Meadow School.