ConVal consolidation conversation stirs controversy 

  • Myron Steere, chair of the school board, speaks during ConVal's deliberative session on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • Peterborough resident Bryan Field speaks in favor of adopting a warrant article regarding employee pay and benefits at ConVal’s deliberative session on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Barbara Miller, who lives in Peterborough and is a select board member, speaks in favor of adopting a petitioned warrant article that would allow board members to shutter school with low enrollment during ConVal's deliberative session on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, February 08, 2018 7:38AM

A petitioned warrant article that would give ConVal board members the authority to shutter schools with low enrollment drew a number of public comments during a deliberative session on Tuesday evening.

About a dozen residents stood up to speak on the item, titled Article 10, that would change the district’s articles of agreement to allow officials to close schools that dip below 50 resident students for two consecutive years. People spoke in support and in opposition of the article, although the majority were against it.

Corey Boyd, of Dublin, said she has two kids who attend the local elementary school, one who is in kindergarten and another in second grade. She said her kids are doing “wonderful” at Dublin Consolidated School.

“I couldn't imagine them at a different school,” Boyd said.  

She called the petitioned warrant article “premature,” arguing that “there’s a lot of questions that need answering” before consolidation or reconfiguration is implemented.

Others at the meeting raised concern about the possibility of extended bus times if reconfiguration were put in place, while others questioned what would happen to the demographic makeup of small towns that no longer have an elementary school.

Those in favor of the article pointed to the school’s growing budget, a decade-long decline in enrollment, and the district’s aging infrastructure as a reason to pass the article in March.

Ed Juengst, who signed the petition, stressed the warrant article authorizes the board to close schools but doesn’t insist on it.

Juengst commended the school board for doing “a great job,” but said they are under immense intense tax pressure.

“I fear that tax pressure sometimes forces them to make decisions that aren’t in the best interest of the school,” Juengst said.

He pointed to the high school’s outdated science labs as an example, which administrators are in the process of addressing now, but “probably should have been done a long time ago.”

Juengst said addressing reconfiguration or consolidation would relieve some tax pressure and free up money that it could pour into improving education.

Pierce Rigrod, a school board member from Hancock, said while administration and the board are gathering information about possible consolidation/ reconfiguration across the district, the plans put forth so far have been “conceptual.”

“There’s still a lot more that we’re evaluating,” Rigrod said about the process.

An amendment to the petitioned warrant article was struck down during a voice vote and again in a separate hand count. The first iteration of the article will appear on the ballot.

There was also some discussion about Article 3 aimed at adopting a third-party fact-finding report regarding ConVal employee contracts.

The school board and a union representing district employees were unable to come to a consensus during a year-long process. A third-party report recommended an agreement that would cost the district about $1.685 million to implement for the increase of salaries, wages, and benefits.

The union is in favor of accepting the report, while the school board opposes it. 

“Aside from the cost, it does not support the vision in the strategic plan,” Bernd Foecking, a school board member representing Dublin, said during the session.

The article drew one public comment during the deliberative session.

“If you want to keep teachers, you have to pay them,” said Bryan Field, of Peterborough.

He said kids in the school system are the future and if you want to retain talented teachers, pay is important.

The comment drew a round of applause from the crowd.

All other articles sailed through the session without any comment, including the district’s budget, which is slated to increase about .6 percent or $281,394 over the one approved last year. The amount raised by taxes would increase about 5.5 percent due to a loss of revenue.

Another article that seeks to raise and appropriate $1 million to build, renovate and equip science labs also passed through the session without any public comment.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledger tran script.com.