Monadnock voters back warrant article to close Gilsum Elementary School
By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
| Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 12:00 pm
SWANZEY CENTER — First it was Surry, then it was Sullivan, and now the Monadnock Regional School District faces the question of whether to close a third school, this one in Gilsum.
The idea to close the school originated in Troy, and Gilsum officials are less than thrilled about it.
School district voters approved an advisory-only warrant article Tuesday, 941-527, to close Gilsum Elementary School and use the money saved to lower property taxes. Of the district’s six member towns, five voted in favor of the article: Fitzwilliam, 235-90, Richmond, 140-60, Roxbury, 17-15, Swanzey, 371-216 and Troy, 162-65.
Gilsum was the exception, where residents voted 81-16 against the warrant article.
Sullivan and Surry withdrew from the district soon after their schools were closed.
Following Tuesday’s vote, it will be up to the school board to decide if Gilsum Elementary School will be closed this year.
The school’s population of roughly 70 students was cut in half following Sullivan’s withdrawal in July 2013. Since then, it has become the target of district administrators to establish a magnet school focused on science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. At the same time, closing the school has been viewed by some voters as a quick solution to lowering their property taxes.
Enter Troy, which has been dealing with financial woes it blames on rising education costs and a change in the formula towns follow in determining how much they owe Monadnock. The petition to close Gilsum Elementary originated in Troy and two of the three selectmen signed it.
The move upset Gilsum officials and residents who want to see the school remain open.
Gilsum selectmen Chairman Raymond F. Britton Jr. said Tuesday night he was disappointed by the support shown for the petition warrant article. He would rather Troy not try to solve its financial issues on the back of his town, and said Troy engaged in a “nasty” and “cowardly” move by submitting the petition warrant article.
“We should be working together as a regional school district,” he said. “I feel the folks of Troy deserve better representation.”
But Troy selectmen Chairman Gideon L. Nadeau Sr., who signed the petition, said selectmen were representing the people of Troy by putting the petition article on the ballot.
“We’re doing everything we can to try to cut the tax rate in Troy,” he said. “That includes looking at any way we can possibly save some money, and getting the school to look at things they can cut.”
Voters at the school district’s annual meeting in 2013 approved a petition warrant article to change the formula from being based on 50 percent student enrollment and 50 percent town property valuation to being based on 75 percent student enrollment and 25 percent town property valuation. Troy’s taxes went up 35.5 percent mainly because of the change, with the local education portion jumping 76.5 percent.
Troy, led by its selectmen, sued the district in December 2013, saying the petition warrant article was approved illegally. The case is pending in Cheshire County Superior Count in Keene.
According to state law, the portion each town pays to a cooperative school district can be based either on 100 percent property valuation, or 50 percent valuation and 50 percent student enrollment. The school board would have to recommend any other formula, the law states. The Monadnock school board did not vote on the formula change before it went to voters in 2013.
Nadeau said the back-and-forth among towns isn’t going to stop until the state steps up with a solution on how to pay for an adequate education.
Monadnock voters also got behind a second petition warrant article that originated in Troy, 916-599.
The advisory-only article would reduce the school district’s budget so the average cost per pupil would drop by $500 each year for the next five years, or until the cost per student reaches the state average.
The state average was $13,459 for the 2012-13 school year, according to the N.H. Department of Education. Monadnock’s average cost per student was $16,445 for that year.
In other business, voters approved:
A $31,710,655 budget by a vote of 1,186 to 382. The budget is a decrease of $698,455, or 2.2 percent, from the current-year budget of about $32.4 million.
Appropriating $60,000 for the district-wide school security officer position, 989-559.
Appropriating $1,364,000 for the final phase of renovations to the middle/high school, 1,177 to 388.
Appropriating $150,000 for health and safety repairs at Emerson and Troy elementary schools, 1,277 to 290.
Monadnock voters didn’t approve a two-year contract between the specialists union and the school district by a vote of 782-751.
Of the school district’s 4,444 registered voters, 1,626, or 36.6 percent, cast ballots on Tuesday.
In a three-way race for two, three-year seats representing Swanzey on the school board, incumbent Michael Blair won with 379 votes followed by Elizabeth Tatro, who retired as Mount Caesar School principal last year, with 373 votes. Falling short was incumbent Daniel Coffman, with 257 votes.
Elected without opposition: Winston Wright, school board representing Fitzwilliam, three years; Lisa Steadman, school board representing Troy, three years; James I. Carnie, school board representing Richmond, three years; Wayne Lechlider, budget committee representing Swanzey, three years; Thomas Parker, budget committee representing Fitzwilliam, three years; and Neil Moriarty, budget committee representing Richmond, three years.