Monadnock school officials are already in budget talks

Monadnock school officials are already in budget talks

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2014

 SWANZEY CENTER — While school only started today in the Monadnock Regional School District, officials are already looking at a level-funded budget for the 2015-16 year.

They’re also thinking about some major upgrades for at least one of the district’s elementary schools, Mount Caesar, if it’s going to continue to be a safe place for children to learn.

Superintendent Leo P. Corriveau was brief in his remarks to the district’s budget committee Tuesday night about the 2015-16 budget, saying he understands many taxpayers would like the budget to continue to decrease, but it can’t go much lower.

“We’re pretty much down to the bottom,” he said.

The district’s current-year budget is $31,710,655.

Monadnock covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy.

Corriveau said he hopes further collaboration with the Keene School District will result in some additional savings for both school districts. However, at this point, Monadnock is going to have to be innovative if it wants to continue to reduce costs, he said.

“We need teachers for the kids. We can’t go any higher on class sizes. They’re reasonable now, but we can’t put 35 in a room,” he said.

Monadnock’s budget has decreased in recent years and has included several teacher and staff layoffs. This has been part of a directive from the school board to bring the amount it costs to educate each student in the district in line with the state average.

In March, district voters approved an advisory-only petition warrant article to reduce the budget so the average cost per pupil decreases by $500 each year for the next five years, or until the cost per student reaches the state average.

In 2012-13, the state average cost per pupil was $13,459.39, while Monadnock’s was $16,445.30.

To make up that $3,000-per-student gap between the state average and Monadnock’s average, the budget would have to be cut by about $3 million, Corriveau said.

Budget committee Vice Chairman Thomas Parker of Fitzwilliam said property taxes in general are just too high, and while Monadnock needs to do its part to bring those figures down, the state shouldn’t be balancing its budget on the backs of school districts and towns.

“Somewhere this is going to have to stop. Over the next few years, I think you’re going to see people get up in arms,” he said.

In addition, in his town and others, there are no good jobs, which compounds the problem, he said.

Then there is the question of Gilsum Elementary School, which should have been closed, he said.

“You just can’t keep a school open that costs about $800,000 to run for 42, 43 kids,” he said.

In March, Monadnock voters approved an advisory-only petition warrant article to close the school, 941-527.

Following the vote, the school board took no action, resulting in the school remaining open for the 2014-15 school year.

In the meantime, the school, which had an enrollment of about 35 students last school year, has reinvented itself as the Gilsum STEAM Academy in hopes of boosting enrollment by drawing students from other Monadnock communities and from outside the district.

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.

Also, with a six-phase project to renovate Monadnock Regional Middle/High School wrapping up this fall, district administrators told the budget committee it may be time to address some of the more expensive issues with the elementary schools.

These include upgrading outdated and inadequate wiring at Cutler and Mount Caesar elementary schools in Swanzey, addressing the lack of a multipurpose room at Mount Caesar, and possibly enlarging the gym at the middle/high school.

Budget committee member Neil Moriarty of Richmond said the district should wait before it does any major work until schools officials lower the cost per student to the state average.

“I think we should get that down before we talk about a new building at Mount Caesar and gym,” he said.

Business Administrator Jane E. Fortson said they’re not adding buildings, and upgrades to the wiring can’t wait much longer.

That project would be about $1 million for Cutler and Mount Caesar, she said.

It’s become so bad that putting an air conditioner in a classroom for a student who has a medical condition that requires it causes problems with the electrical system at Mount Caesar, she said.