Voters increase Wilton-Lyndeborough budget by $50,000, agree to keep tennis courts

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 03-13-2023 3:50 PM

Wilton-Lyndeborough residents added $50,000 to the school district budget for administrative staffing for the district’s two lower-grade schools during the District Meeting on Saturday, along with agreeing to repair the district’s tennis courts.

The district had originally proposed a budget of approximately $13.84 million for the upcoming year, which represented a $687,730 increase, or about 5.23 percent over last year’s budget. The proposal included staffing changes, including adding a third-grade teacher, a technology support position and a part-time custodian, and cutting a science teacher position at Wilton-Lyndeborough. Increases in transportation, electricity, oil and propane, food and kitchen supplies, employee insurance costs, facilities maintenance and repairs to the high school track were drivers in this year’s budget.

During discussion of the budget, resident Alyssa Lavoie questioned the district’s staffing priorities, and suggested that there were additional administrative staff needed to support teachers at Florence Rideout Elementary School and particularly Lyndeborough Central School, which houses the district’s preschool and kindergarten programs. Lavoie alleged that teachers have left LCS due to a lack of that support, and said it was an ongoing issue without any clear resolution.

“We just have this conversation year after year,” Lavoie said.

Lavoie moved to increase the budget by $50,000, with the intent for the funds be used to allow for additional administrative support at FRES and LCS.

Jonathan Vanderhoof of Lyndeborough said he understood Lavoie’s sentiment, but didn’t feel District Meeting was the place to add a staffing position. Adam Lavallee, a member of the district’s Budget Committee, countered that the district had been having discussions about issues at LCS and FRES, but additional staffing was “just not prioritized.”

Debbie Bass of Lyndeborough said the lack of support staff has contributed to turnover at LCS, and has cost the district good teachers.

“I support this, and I’m cheap,” Bass said.

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The crowd supported the amendment in a show of hands, after Moderator Walter Holland ruled a voice vote too close to call, with 41 in favor and 32 against. The meeting then passed the new amended budget in a voice vote, with only a scattering of “nays.”

The issue that took the majority of the meeting was the final item on the warrant, a proposal to spend $75,000 to repair the district’s tennis courts. A portion of the funding would go toward subsurface repairs, resetting the tennis posts, cleaning out and filling 825 feet of cracks that average between one and two feet deep and resurfacing and painting the court. It would also pay to reinstall 10-foot fencing, trim trees around the courts and install drains around the court to reduce standing water.

School Board member Alex Loverme said that while the district’s tennis team is small, the courts are also open to the public, and are used as part of the district’s physical education curriculum.

The article was controversial with some in the crowd, as last year, residents had voted on a budget which included a line item for $20,000 to remove the courts.

“We all voted $20,000 last year to remove the tennis courts. Why weren’t they removed?” asked Mary Golding of Wilton.

Other members of the community pointed out that the options discussed in 2022 were either $20,000 to remove the courts or a much-more-costly option to fully renovate them, and appreciated seeing a third option put before them.

School Board member Tiffany Cloutier-Cabral said the board had been approached by some members of the community who were concerned about the decision to remove the courts, and decided to put it before voters as a dedicated warrant article this year.

If the article was defeated, the district still had time left in the current fiscal year to use the $20,000 to remove the courts, which board members said would be what happened if residents turned the article down.

Fran Bujak of Lyndeborough, who has coached tennis for the district, said removing the courts would effectively destroy $200,000 worth of district property, as well as removing access for both students and the community.

“These sports do make a difference for the children in our community,” Bujak said.

Scott Dowling, who coaches varsity softball for the district, questioned whether there were other areas which should be prioritized, noting that there were only four students on the team the last year the courts were available. He said other, more-popular sports are struggling for funds, and that he had personally spent $12,000 out of his own pocket to help fund the softball team.

When the article came to a voice vote, there was a split between yes and no votes, but Holland declared he heard a clear majority in favor. At the request of a resident, Holland called for a count of raised hands, which showed 47 in favor and 15 against. Holland declared the article had passed.

The rest of the warrant was approved with little discussion from the crowd.

Voters had no comment on a proposed three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Wilton-Lyndeborough Support Staff Association. The proposal includes estimated salary and benefit increases of $56,305 in the first year, $21,750 in the second year and $22,495 in the third.

School Board member Matt Mannarino explained the first year’s cost was to adjust for inflation and market rates, with average salary increases of 4.25 percent in the second and third years. Support staff includes special education paraprofessionals, personal assistants, part-time secretaries, part-time custodians and paraprofessionals, and represents about 20 staff members.

Raising the first year’s appropriation is estimated to have a tax impact of about 7 cents per $1,000 of value in both towns.

Voters passed the article in a voice vote.

Voters also approved a $190,000 contribution to the district’s building and roads capital reserve by voice vote. The contribution has an estimated tax impact of about 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for both towns.

Voting on the remainder of the district’s warrant, which includes election of all school district officers, is scheduled done by ballot in each individual town on March 14. Voting in Wilton is scheduled to be held at the Town Hall, starting at 8 a.m., and in Lyndeborough at Citizens’ Hall starting at 10 a.m. Polls close at 7 p.m. in both towns.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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