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CV must cut about $770,000

  • Supporters of ConVal School Board candidates campaigned outside the Town House in Peterborough on Tuesday.
  • Supporters of ConVal School Board candidates campaigned outside the Town House in Peterborough on Tuesday.
  • Supporters of ConVal School Board candidates campaigned outside the Town House in Peterborough on Tuesday.

Voters rejected the ConVal School District’s proposed $45.8 million operating budget on Tuesday, with just 45 percent in favor. District administrators and the School Board will now be faced with cutting about $770,000 in order to reach a default budget of about $45 million.

Four warrant articles — to repave the ConVal High School parking lot, to resurface and upgrade the track at the high school, to revamp the South Meadow School exit road, and to purchase a tractor for the Facilities Department — also failed.

The $45,793,510 operating budget passed by wide margins in Peterborough and Antrim, the district’s two largest towns, but it drew less support in the smaller towns, especially Temple, where just 19 percent of voters were in favor, and Greenfield, where 23 percent were in support.

The overall district vote on the budget was 1,686 in favor, 2,021 opposed. For voting results by town, see chart on page 11.

On Wednesday, ConVal School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said the administration had made an effort to put together a budget that would provide quality educational opportunities for ConVal students

“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Minnihan said about the voting results. “Our increase was less than 1 percent. I think we were trying to be responsible. That said, the voters have had their say. We’ll have to figure out how to trim by more than $700,000.”

He said administrators will begin work this week to identify areas where budget cuts could be made.

“I think staffing will be one area, due to the large number of dollars involved,” he said. “We’ll be talking about options and try to make decisions that will have the least amount of impact on students.”

ConVal School Board Chair Butch Estey, a longtime member of the board, said it’s unusual for the district to have to adjust to a default budget, but it has happened at least once that he can recall.

“We’ll have to try to do it as painlessly as possible,” Estey said. “Everything is on the table. We have to make sure we don’t affect the education of the students too much.”

Estey said because much of the budget is related to personnel, cuts are likely to affect staff.

“I would hope that within a couple of weeks, we’ll have figures to look at. We need to move quickly, so people can make plans,” he said.

Estey also said administrators and the board would look at the new programs that were included in the proposal, but those might not necessarily be where cuts are made.

“If there’s something we feel is strongly needed, do we make a change somewhere else?,” he asked. “We’re in for a strong debate.”

Members of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee to the School Board voted unanimously not to support the budget proposal and spoke against it at the Feb. 6 Deliberative Session. John Jordan of Hancock, who chairs the SAC, said Tuesday’s vote sent a message.

“I think this is a wakeup call,” Jordan said on Wednesday. “SAC tried to work with [the School Board] throughout the budget process. We’ve offered suggestions and help. I hope this will lead to a process where SAC and the School Board can jointly support a budget in the future.”

Jordan said the budget was larger than necessary, because it used the previous year’s budget numbers as a starting point.

“We were quite surprised that they don’t base the budget on actual expenses,” Jordan said. “That’s the place they should start.”

SAC member John Kieley of Temple, who served as a liaison to the School Board’s Budget and Property Committee during the planning process, also said the vote sends a message.

“Voters and taxpayers expect much tighter management of the district’s fiscal affairs,” Kieley said. “The purpose of having a budget committee is to set guidelines and procedures and then work side by side with the administration on the actual development of the budget.”

Kieley said that didn’t happen this year and the budget was developed by the administration and sent directly to the full School Board for review, which resulted in a larger budget than was needed.

Warrant articles

The ConVal parking lot renovations were rejected by a vote of 1,441 to 2,282, with just 39 percent in favor. School Board members had said the underlying material at the lot is substandard and needed to be removed completely before new filling and pavement could be done. The warrant article called for up to $545,419 to complete the job.

Because the warrant article was voted down, the district has few options to improve the lot.

“It can be minimally patched, but we can’t do much more,” Minnihan said.

The $265,350 warrant article to repair and upgrade the high school track failed by a vote of 1,575 to 2,143. Estey said the vote will limit the district’s ability to host meets on the field.

The request for $160,000 to provide additional turning lanes at the exit road from the back parking lot at South Meadow School failed by a margin of 1,367 to 2,341.

The only warrant article to come close to passing was to purchase a new tractor for the district’s Facilities Department, which came up just short, with 49 percent approval from voters.

“Hopefully, the tractor will continue to run for at least another year,” Minnihan said.

School Board seats

Write-in candidate Tom Ferenc defeated Gary Carpenter for an open seat on the ConVal School Board by a margin of 296 to 157. Ferenc, a former ConVal teacher who is now a high school principal working in Vermont, said on Wednesday that he was looking forward to becoming involved with the business of managing the school district. He said adjusting to a default budget will be a challenge.

“When you get into cuts like that, you’re looking at both people and programs,” Ferenc said. “It’s called right-sizing the organization. You have to look everywhere and put all things on the table. It’s difficult.”

Crista Salamy was re-elected to an Antrim School Board seat. She ran unopposed.

Stephan Morrissey won the Francestown School Board seat after running as a write-in candidate.

Ted O’Brien got the most write-in votes for the Sharon School Board seat. The Ledger-Transcript was unable to contact O’Brien on Wednesday to confirm whether he’ll accept the job.

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