Jaffrey-Rindge budget proposal draws concern from residents

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/14/2022 11:49:06 AM
Modified: 1/14/2022 11:48:13 AM

The proposed Jaffrey-Rindge operating budget of $27.5 million was met with objections from the public when it was presented by the School Board during a public hearing Thursday night.

The proposal is approximately $760,000 higher than the district’s current budget. 

“I can’t afford this,” said Frank Sterling of Jaffrey. “A lot of people can’t afford this.”

The increase includes an additional $850,000 for special education services, as well as a $147,000 increase for wages and a $113,000 increase for utilities. There were some decreases as well, including $118,000 due to a decrease in staffing by two positions, a part-time secretary and a full-time safety coordinator.

Superintendent Reuben Duncan said it was the bare minimum they could possibly spend.

“This increase largely has to do with changes in cost,” said Duncan. “I think everyone knows that there’s been some serious adjustments and continues to be, to what things cost at every level. There is nothing exciting that we’re spending money on that we’re getting more. The increases in this budget are purely to maintain everything identically.”

Audience members took issue with this, with Sterling calling it “unsustainable.”

“You’ve gotta go back and seriously consider scaling back a lot of these issues and not trying to get them all done this year,” he said.

Part of the public concern’s was centered around the fact that Jaffrey would be taking more of the tax burden, as Jaffrey students make up a majority of the school’s population. In 2020, according to Duncan, there was a drop of about 150 students from what had been largely steady enrollment, the majority of them coming from Rindge Memorial School. As a result, Jaffrey students now make up 56.36% of the district population, making their contribution higher.

Jack Belletete of Jaffrey suggested that with that reduction in students, the district should consider reducing staffing. 

“I think it’s appropriate; we need to get a reduction in staffing to get a number that’s a little less so that Jaffrey is not going to take such a hit,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough sell.”

Ultimately, board members decided not to make changes.

“I’m kind of in a position of, you asked us to provide an education,” said Vice Chair Charlie Eicher. “As a matter of fact, we took an oath to provide an education for your children, and we’re going to do it the best we can, but this is what we need to do it. But if you don’t want to do it, then tell us you don't want to do it.”

Other financial warrant articles include $455,745 to cover the district’s negotiated collective bargaining agreement, a measure to enter into a lease-purchase agreement in order to upgrade the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems at JRMS and CHS for $4.47 million, with $374,586 for the first payment, and a lease-purchase agreement to upgrade district restrooms for $3.37 million with $281,951 as a first payment.

Also among the warrant items were raising $500,000 for the building maintenance capital reserve fund and appropriating $200,000 to the district’s special education contingency fund. Following public input, the board reduced those measures to $300,000 for building maintenance and $75,000 for special education.

Additionally, the board removed the article for the lease-purchase agreement to upgrade district bathrooms, deciding that the need for HVAC upgrades was more pressing if they should be forced to choose.

Board member John McCarthy called these reductions a “show of good faith” to concerned voters. 

“To me, it’s like we’re communicating something, that we’re trying,” he said.

The final warrant article was submitted by petition and would require the board to make available all instructional materials used by the district by putting them in the Rindge and Jaffrey libraries. The article referred to the matter as an issue of transparency and education, but board members expressed concern.

“On its face it sounds reasonable, but I also see problems with it in terms of implementation and its impact on teachers and instructors,” said McCarthy. 

Board Chair Marcia Gustafson-Belletete called it “absurd,” and other members raised questions of whether it could potentially infringe on copyright for certain teaching materials used by the district. Alone on the warrant, the board voted not to recommend this article.

The district’s deliberative session will be on Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Rindge Memorial School gymnasium. 


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