Board: No raise for administrators

Full funding restored for Quest and PEP programs in Jaffrey-Rindge district

JAFFREY — Jaffrey-Rindge School Board members voted unanimously on Monday to approve most of School Superintendent James O’Neill’s recommendations for reducing the district’s 2014-2015 budget by $477,479 in order to meet default budget requirements. But they also decided not to cut funding for the PEP and Quest summer programs, which O’Neill had proposed to scale back. And on a 5-2 vote, they approved a proposal by board member Charlie Eicher that administrators who make more than $70,000 in salary should not receive a planned 3 percent pay increase next year.

Earlier this month, voters in the two towns rejected a proposed budget of $26,019,402, setting the stage for the district to have to work with a $25,541,923 default budget. The School Board is working to meet a March 31 deadline to submit information to the state on how they will meet the default budget requirements.

Superintendent’s plan

O’Neill started the budget conversation at Monday’s meeting by listing the core values of the budget proposal, which he said were to “preserve all current teaching functions,” “continue with all improvement programs including curriculum, replacement, technology upgrades and facilities enhancements,” and for “equitable, according to need, distribution of the reductions.”

Board members said about $350,000 in unexpended appropriations still remains for the 2013-14 school year budget, which could be used to purchase items intended for next year, as long as the board approves and the money is spent before June 30. Board members recommended that $191,608 should be used to make such purchases, with the remainder used to reduce the tax impact.

Among the purchases to be moved up to this year are $76,100 in facilities equipment, including $10,000 for a zero-turn mower, which O’Neill said will save time and money since it mows the lawn considerably faster than what the district has now; $25,000 to update security cameras; $33,100 for locker replacements at the high school and middle school; and $8,000 for safer playground shavings at the elementary schools. Other purchases to be made this year are $25,408 for projectors, printers, document cameras and other technology for the schools and $8,600 for a prone stander/Rifton chair for the student services department.

O’Neill said the proposed budget could also be reduced by removing $76,315 from the teacher retirements line item for payout of accrued benefits. Despite no more than 50 percent of that line item ever being used, the board was hesitant to cut it, initially fearing blowback if more teachers retired than expected. But after the board asked teachers considering retirement to make a final decision in advance of the meeting, two teachers gave their confirmation and three others retracted their initial retirement considerations, which will enable the district to reduce the line item.

O’Neill’s plan calls for eliminating a full-time response-to-intervention coach position at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School, which will save $70,606.

O’Neill also proposed holding off next year on a $80,000 line item for the replacement of technology in the schools. And he suggested a number of smaller cuts, including reducing field trip expenses by $7,435, removing $34,000 from the supplies budget, $8,600 from the student services equipment line item, $1,500 for the Rindge Memorial School beginning of the year barbecue (which could possibly be paid for by community contributions), cutting $25,408 for technology equipment, $2,000 for Conant High School enrichment software, $25,000 for non-contractual professional development and training consultants, and $1,500 for guidance office desks at the high school.

Quest, PEP to stay intact

At an earlier meeting regarding the budget gap, board members had proposed eliminating Quest, the summer camp program for students run in collaboration with Franklin Pierce University and the local Rotary Club, and PEP, a summer program that serves about 145 elementary school students. O’Neill didn’t go that far, but his list of proposed reductions included cutting Quest by $7,500, with most of the reduction in field trips and staffing, and reducing PEP staffing by $8,390. That would have left the Quest budget at $30,217 and PEP at $39,435.

Trevor Pierce was one of several students and adults who spoke in support of the Quest program, saying it’s a mix of academics and fun.

“It’s worth taking a second look at,” said Pierce. “Because… you know, it’s just good.”

He returned to his seat with the support of a cheering crowd.

O’Neill said administrators were not intending to eliminate the program.

“[Quest] has a marvelous history,” said O’Neill. “It has been picked up as a model program and we do not wish, by any stretch of the imagination, to see this program go away.”

But when the district needs to cut almost half a million dollars from the budget, he said, everything needs to be considered.

Eicher disagreed with the proposal to reduce funding to the two programs.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” said Eicher. He proposed leaving the funding intact and also suggested restoring $8,125 for professional development for administrators, which O’Neill had listed as a recommended cut.

Eicher suggested the board could compensate by not offering a 3 percent pay raise next year to administrators earning $70,000 or more.

After brief discussion, the board voted to approve Eicher’s proposal, leaving PEP and QUEST funding and the administrator professional development monies intact and eliminating the raises for the higher-paid administrators.

The decision by the board to forgo the pay increase will save approximately $25,000.

Community against program cuts

During the meeting, several residents spoke against cuts that were being made, notably a music class that will no longer be offered and a reduction in hours for a music teacher at the high school and middle school. The staffing reduction was part of a total of 8.7 full-time equivalent jobs that had been eliminated as part of the district’s initial budget — the one voters turned down. Those jobs remained cut in the plan to meet the default budget.

Board Chair Dan Whitney addressed those who spoke, particularly those who had signed a petition in support of the music program, saying he admires “activism, particularly by those 18 and under.” But Whitney said he wanted to clarify that even if the budget had passed, the school district was planning to reduce the hours for the music teaching positions. He said that after administrative input from the middle and high school, the board had determined that the district doesn’t need two full-time teachers for music classes.

Whitney emphasized that the decision does not mean the district will be significantly cutting the music program. A single class with low attendance will no longer be offered, he said, and the music teachers will spend their time between the middle and high school levels.

“The music program is not going away at either the middle school or the high school,” said Whitney. “It is not the elimination of a position — it is the elimination of a half of a position.”

Teachers, staff, parents and several students spoke in support of the music program, citing its connection with high math test scores.

Gwyneth Chandler, a middle-school student and violinist, said it was her teacher who inspired her and made her want to play. “Please consider letting the music teacher keep her full-time job,” said Chandler.

A board meeting scheduled for next Wednesday will no longer be held, since the new budget proposal was resolved at the meeting on Monday. Conant High School Principal John Barth also announced that graduation ceremonies will be held on June 13 at 7 p.m. at Franklin Pierce University.

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