Monadnock district budget proposal survives cut attempt
By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff, Posted: Sunday, February 9, 2014 8:00 am
SWANZEY CENTER — How low can the proposed 2014-15 budget for the Monadnock Regional School District go?
According to one Troy selectman, more than the $31,710,655 settled on by the school district’s budget committee last month.
Shortly in to Monadnock’s roughly two-hour deliberative session Saturday, Troy Selectman William T. Matson made a motion to amend the district’s proposed budget to $31 million, or $710,655 less than the budget committee’s number.
While his motion received a second, it didn’t get the favor of the majority of the district’s 122 voters in attendance.
Saturday’s turnout was 2.7 percent of Monadnock’s 4,444 registered voters.
The Monadnock district covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy.
“The budget committee and the school board worked very hard to bring this budget to bare bones,” school board Chairman Patricia Bauries of Swanzey said. “The school board took the budget down by $700,000, and the budget committee then took that down even further by $90,000 to eliminate the purchase of Chromebooks.”
Reducing the budget by an additional $710,000 would cause more teachers to lose their jobs, and be a detriment to Monadnock students, she said.
The proposed 2014-15 budget of $31,710,655 is a decrease of 2.2 percent, or $698,455 from this year’s budget of about $32.4 million.
Within that proposed budget are plans to cut 12 teaching positions, lower stipends for department chair posts and reduce high school and central office administration.
It also removes $90,000 the school board had added to the budget to purchase Chromebooks for students in grades 5 and 11.
District officials began the Chromebook initiative this year to provide students with additional technological tools to help with their education. The notebook computers were given to students in grades 6 through 9 this year.
School board members Richard H. Thackston 3rd of Troy and James I. Carnie of Richmond also spoke in favor of the proposed budget, saying it was the most conservative they had seen in some time.
“I’ve been on the board for some time, and I like to cut money as much as we can where reasonable,” Carnie said.
Reducing the proposed 2014-15 budget to $31 million isn’t reasonable, he said.
Erin Kelley, an English teacher at Monadnock Regional High School, also spoke up.
She passionately condemned the district for its history of bickering, gossip and attacks on spending and programming, and encouraged officials, residents, staff and students to work together.
“This district is sick,” she said.
She said the district needs to embrace change rather than fight it, and do what is best to make its schools positive learning and working environments.
Voters agreed to leave the budget warrant article in tact after the roughly 40-minute discussion.
Two other warrant articles voters debated heavily Saturday seek to close Gilsum Elementary School, and to ask Monadnock to reduce its average cost per student by $500 each year for the next five years, or until it reaches the state average.
Both petition warrant articles are advisory, Monadnock’s attorney James A. O’Shaughnessy said.
The warrant articles originated in Troy, which has the second-highest student enrollment in the Monadnock school district.
The town is currently involved in litigation against the school district about the formula towns follow in determining how much they owe Monadnock.
Voters at the school district’s annual meeting in March 2013 approved a petition warrant article to change the formula to be based on 75 student enrollment and 25 percent town property valuation.
The formula had previously been calculated using 50 percent student enrollment and 50 percent town property valuation.
The change took effect July 1, 2013, and caused Troy’s payment to the school district to jump 16.1 percent.
The local education portion of Troy’s tax rate also rose significantly from $11.51 per $1,000 assessed valuation in 2012 to $20.32 in 2013.
While some Monadnock voters may not see it as fair to have the district’s budget cut by the amount equal to reducing the cost per student by $500 a year, the spike in Troy’s tax rate isn’t fair either, Matson said.
In November, the Troy Board of Selectmen filed a petition with the N.H. Department of Education asking it to overrule voter approval of the March 2013 petition warrant article.
The state agency has since denied the request, and a subsequent motion for a rehearing.
In the meantime, Troy selectmen turned to the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration and the N.H. Executive Council for help.
They tried unsuccessfully to get the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration to recalculate the town’s 2013 tax rate of $36.26 per $1,000 assessed valuation.
Then in early December, Troy filed a lawsuit saying the petition warrant article to change the school funding formula didn’t comply with state law because it wasn’t recommended or backed by the Monadnock Regional School Board.
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 school board didn’t back the warrant article, voting in January 2013 to take no action on it.
The case remains pending in Cheshire County Superior Court.
Gilsum Selectman William Hasbrouck said residents in his town don’t want to see their elementary school close, and the board of selectmen has been working hard to convince area towns to send their children to Gilsum on tuition.
He’s hopeful those discussion will be fruitful, he said.
Currently about 35 students attend Gilsum Elementary School, which is roughly 50 percent less than last year when students from neighboring Sullivan also attended the school.
Sullivan withdrew from Monadnock on July 1, 2013.
Carnie and Thackston also spoke in favor of keeping the school open at least for the time being.
The school board has agreed to look at Gilsum Elementary School’s place in the district over the next year, but right now, when things are in transition, isn’t the time, Carnie said.
Voter opinion on both warrant articles was mixed.
However, voters rejected an amendment proposed by Swanzey resident Gene M. White to change the $500 per pupil cost to $1.
Other warrant articles discussed by voters Saturday, included:
Approval of $1,364,000 for the sixth and final phase of a multi-year renovation of the middle/high school building. Of that amount, 56 percent, or $630,701, will be reimbursed by the state.
Approval of $60,000 to fund the district-wide school security officer position for one year.
Approval of $150,000 for health and safety repairs at the school district’s elementary schools. Those repairs include fixing the elevator and installing a new fire protection system at Emerson Elementary School in Fitzwilliam, installing new exterior doors on Troy Elementary School’s gymnasium, and repairing plaster and conversion of a heating unit on the Troy school’s roof to provide the building with fresh air.
As an SB2 district, Monadnock voters are allowed to discuss and debate warrant articles that will appear on the ballot at the school district’s annual meeting on March 11. 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.