Could school district dissolve? Jaffrey town officials discuss potential changes

  • Jaffrey school board member John McCarthy speaks during a joint meeting of Jaffrey selectmen, planning board, budget committee, and school board members on Thursday. The various town officials met to discuss potential apportionment formula changes with the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, which are currently being discussed by the district’s school board.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, October 24, 2017 9:13AM

A number of Jaffrey town officials met Thursday to discuss next steps regarding potential changes to the Jaffrey-Rindge School District apportionment formula, with some saying they are beginning to prepare for the worst: a potential dissolving of the school district.

“Right now, there are no winners. Whatever side feels aggrieved will look for another solution,” said Jaffrey Selectman and State Rep. Frank Sterling, during the meeting. “The school district is dead. It’s on life support and no one’s willing to pull the plug.”

The meeting — a gathering of Jaffrey selectmen, members of Jaffrey’s planning board and budget committee, Jaffrey’s representation on the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, and others — was convened by School Board member John McCarthy, who said during the meeting that it was time for Jaffrey town representatives to think about the data, potential warrant and petition articles filed at the school district level, and choices the town can make. 

“To me, we are in a tough spot, and I’m not sure anyone has the right solution,” said McCarthy. “People in Rindge feel like they are in a tough spot, and have been making that argument for a long time. But if we think about increasing our taxes, there will be a lot of angry people [in Jaffrey.]”

The school board has yet to officially recommend any apportionment change in the form of a warrant article but is currently discussing a proposal submitted by the apportionment committee, which was formed after a warrant article passed in March to create a committee to examine the fairness of the current apportionment formula: a 50/50 split of each town’s average daily membership and equalized property values.

The committee’s proposal — which was brought forward to the school board after a 6-2 vote — would keep the current formula in place, but would take all state aid credited to each town and give it directly to the school district prior to any apportionment calculations. It is currently proposed to spread the change over a period of five years, with the district looking into the legality of such a phase-in. 

Jaffrey Town Manager Jon Frederick said during the meeting that the total impact of such a change would be an estimated $1.2 million to the town of Jaffrey, or an estimated $3 on the town’s tax rate.

Estimations provided at a prior school board meeting show that the school portion of Rindge’s tax rate would decrease $1.73. The change would make the school portion of Rindge’s tax rate an estimated $3.35 lower than Jaffrey’s, but the town of Rindge would still pay an estimated $445,739 overall. 

Budget Committee chair Norman Langevin said that reductions in staff to the police or highway departments or shutting down the recreation department or library would be “the only thing we can do” to absorb the potential increase. 

Much of the discussion Thursday focused around a potential school board warrant articles and the ramifications for each town should an article be passed or failed in March. 

Many at the meeting spoke to the potential for Rindge residents banding together to create a petition warrant article for 2017 or 2018 to look at withdrawing from the school district, should an apportionment change not occur in the coming year. It was also said that a similar petition warrant article could be crafted by Jaffrey residents, should such a large-scale change occur. 

“We already have a high tax rate,” said Langevin, who served on the apportionment committee and was one of the two no votes on the committee’s proposal. “It will make Jaffrey even more unattractive. Is it fair to Jaffrey residents to have such a large tax increase?”

School board member Jeff Clark-Kevan, who also served on the committee, said that Rindge withdrawing from the district would present a “double-edged sword” to Jaffrey residents, as the tax rate may not spike, but the education that Jaffrey could offer its students could greatly diminish, as it would cost more to run the schools and programs and offerings would have to be decreased or eliminated. 

“Right now, it’s very difficult to get younger families to move into town,” said Clark-Kevan. 

At one point in the meeting, Sterling asked apportionment committee members Clark-Kevan and Laurel McKenzie to defend their positions to vote in favor of a proposal that favored Rindge over Jaffrey.

McKenzie, who serves on the town’s planning board and is chair of the school board, said that she was looking at fairness, not in tax rates, but in terms of “two towns in a partnership.”

Clark-Kevan defended his position by saying that he wanted to keep the school district together.

“Nobody walked away thrilled [about the proposal,]” said Clark-Kevan. “If the district comes apart there will be no winners.”