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Lots to talk about at Monadnock deliberative session

Lots to talk about at Monadnock deliberative session

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
| Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 12:00 pm

SWANZEY CENTER — Two union contracts, the future of an elementary school, more than $1 million in renovations to another, and a proposed operating budget of just more than $30 million are among the warrant articles Monadnock Regional School District voters will face at their deliberative session Saturday.

The contracts, which are three-year agreements between the school district and the two unions, Specialists of the Monadnock District and the Monadnock Educational Support Staff Association, have generated the most controversy — except, perhaps, the articles pertaining to the future of the Gilsum STEAM Academy.

In recent weeks, school board and budget committee members have gotten into heated debates at their respective meetings about whether to support the contracts. The debates pertained to the costs of the contracts and the haste in which they, especially the support staff contract, came before the school board for approval and the budget committee for support.

The standing of the specialists’ union, which now has nine members, has also been called into question. The union had the more than 10 members required by law when the state and district recognized it as a collective bargaining unit two years ago.

If approved by voters, the contract would be the first for the union, which represents speech pathologists and occupational and physical therapists in the school district.

According to the warrant article, the contract, if approved, is projected to cost Monadnock an additional $55,208 in its first year, $13,853 more in its second year, and $10,884 more in its third year.

In exchange, specialists union members would be required to pay more for their health insurance, according to the warrant article.

The support staff union has more than 100 members and includes custodians, maintenance employees, secretaries, administrative assistants and paraprofessionals.

Its contract, which was approved by the school board in a weighted vote of 6.482-1.115, is projected to cost Monadnock an additional $186,086 in its first year, $101,720 more in its second year, and $47,457 more in its third year.

Union members would also contribute more to their health insurance each year. The school district now covers 100 percent of their insurance.

Two articles put on the warrant by petition seek to determine the future of the Gilsum STEAM Academy (formerly Gilsum Elementary School).

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. The program, which began this school year as a way to boost enrollment at Gilsum Elementary School, focuses on a hands-on, project-based curriculum.

One warrant article seeks to keep the kindergarten- through-6th-grade school open for five years as a pilot program for the school district’s STEAM program.

The other warrant article seeks to close it by June 30, transfer all Gilsum school students to other schools in the district at the discretion of the superintendent and school board, coordinate use of the school building as a community center by the town of Gilsum, and raise and appropriate $8,000 for winterization, utilities and maintaining the building for no more than a year after it closes.

School board member Richard H. Thackston 3rd of Troy proposed both warrant articles, saying Monadnock voters and officials need to answer conclusively whether the district should keep the school running.

The school’s future has been debated since at least 2013, after neighboring Sullivan withdrew from the Monadnock school district. The vote caused the Gilsum school’s population to drop by about half, to 35 students.

The petition warrant articles come two years after voters approved an advisory-only petition warrant article, 941-527, in March 2013 to close the Gilsum school ahead of the 2014-15 school year.

The school board didn’t act on the warrant article after voters passed it.

In October 2014, Monadnock school board members opted to close the Gilsum school in a weighted vote of 8.347-3.318. Two weeks later, the board rescinded the vote, 6.669-3.241.

Then in November 2014, the board voted unanimously to form a committee to study the STEAM program at the Gilsum school and make recommendations for its future and possible expansion. The board also charged the study committee with making a long-term plan that considers the costs and benefits of the program, and set two deadlines.

The first deadline was to have a preliminary report by Jan. 20. On the basis of that first report, the school board allowed administrators to apply for public charter school status for the Gilsum school. The second deadline is to have a final report completed by the end of the 2014-15 school year, on June 30.

The Monadnock Budget Committee, by a weighted vote of 9.458-1.140, has backed a 2015-16 operating budget for the district of $30,569,000.

That amount, plus the $970,000 required to cover federal and nutrition grants, which are paid for by state and federal revenues, brings the proposed 2015-16 operating budget to $31,539,000. That includes the cost of keeping the Gilsum school open. The 2015-16 default budget is $25,030 less, at $31,564,030.

Another warrant article seeks to raise and appropriate $1,181,000 for renovations to the Mount Caesar Elementary School in Swanzey Center. The renovations include rewiring the kindergarten through 2nd-grade school, which is running on its original 1950s-era wiring.

As an official-ballot district, Monadnock voters are allowed to discuss and debate warrant articles that will appear on the ballot at the school district’s annual meeting March 10.

They are also permitted to amend articles as long as the intent of the articles remains the same, and the wording isn’t mandated by state law.

The deliberative session is scheduled for 10 a.m. in the auditorium of Monadnock Regional Middle/High School.