ConVal School board considering surcharge for low enrollment elementary schools

  • ConVal's School Board voted Tuesday to explore a warrant article that if passed would create a surcharge fee for towns with elementary schools that have less than 65 students. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • ConVal School Board vice chair Rich Cahoon of Antrim discusses the district’s funding formula during a school board meeting Tuesday.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • ConVal School Board member Stephan Morrissey of Francestown proposed a warrant article to give the school board authority to close low enrollment schools but it was withdrawn. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, November 28, 2018 5:20PM

The ConVal School Board is exploring a way to offer towns with low enrollment elementary schools a choice: pay more money or close your school.

The board voted 6-3 Tuesday to have a warrant article drafted that would tax towns extra if they have an elementary school with less than 65 kids.

A separate vote of 7-2 will have the district’s attorney look at the possibility of creating a warrant article that would offer towns a choice to pay the additional tax or have their elementary school closed down, should student population be at a low level.

“I think we need to make stark choices available to the public,” board member Stephan Morrissey of Francestown said. “The consolidation plan we proposed, I think, would be a political dead on arrival. It may be the better and wiser choice, but I don’t know if we can sell it.”

On Aug. 21, the board voted to place a consolidation plan on the March ballot. The consolidation plan involves reorganizing the district and shutting down a number of schools.

Peterborough Elementary School and Great Brook School in Antrim – currently one of the district’s middle schools – would serve the district’s K-3 population, while Peterborough’s South Meadow School would serve 4th through 6th grade and ConVal High School would serve 7th through 12th.

Board chair Myron Steere of Greenfield said Wednesday that consolidation is still on the table, despite the votes made Tuesday advancing other options.

“The issue that has come up is people are concerned we will do nothing,” Steere said. “No decisions have been made yet, we are just getting through the discussion.”

Steere said it is his opinion that the board would be interested in pursuing consolidation, though board members are unsure if a proposal would pass the 2/3 vote required.

“The board has a financial and an educational issue to settle” Steere said. “If we don’t do something, the board believes a petition article will come forward, which we will have no control over.”

The board has also been looking at changes to the district’s funding formula – currently a 50-50 blend of each town’s equalized property valuation and average daily student membership.

“I find it very frustrating that we spent months and months developing educationally sound models on consolidation and then they were thrown out within one or two board meetings,” board member Bernd Foecking of Dublin said. “Now we are under pressure to put something on the ballot and we are using half-baked ideas that have no educational answers within them whatsoever… it feels to me like we are doing triage.”

Should the board put forth an article creating a “surcharge” for towns with elementary schools with less than 65 students, towns under the threshold will be taxed additionally for every student under the 65 mark.

Four towns currently have less than 65 elementary school students in their towns based on Nov. 2018 enrollment figures – Dublin, Francestown, Hancock, and Temple.

The number charged per student under the threshold would be calculated by dividing the total amount of the budget to be raised by taxes throughout the district and dividing it by the district’s average daily membership to get an average assessment per student cost.

That cost would then be multiplied by the number of students a town has under 65 to determine the “surcharge” amount.

“I don’t think we’ve ever said you can choose, but you have to choose… it’s basically a choice people have refused to make, either have larger elementary schools one way or another or pay more,” board vice-chair Rich Cahoon of Antrim said.

Morrissey originally proposed a warrant article that he said would give authority to the school board to close down smaller elementary schools in the district.

Under his proposed wording, the article would remove Dublin and Temple from the list of elementary schools that shall be maintained in the district.

“I think we need to give the public a warrant article,” Morrissey said. “This gives them that, and it allows our administration to spend more time focused on what they need to focus on rather than continuously coming up with variations of plans.”

Board members Foecking, Niki McGettigan of Temple, and Janine Lesser of Peterborough all took issue with excluding specific towns from the list based on current enrollment figures.

“It arbitrarily – considering the numbers at the schools – chooses Dublin and Temple,” Lesser said. “I would prefer to leave it open and see the warrant article give us the authority to close schools based on population and not identify which communities they are right off the bat. Or, I’d rather just go with consolidation.”

The motion was later withdrawn, in favor of a motion to offer towns a choice between paying more and closing.

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com.